This is a guest post written by Paula Alexander, Managing Director at Holiday Cottage Compare.
Autism is a condition that affects a large number of people – as well as their families – with more than one person in every 100 in the UK diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
And when a family with a member who has autism look for a much needed break away, the difficulties in finding a suitable holiday cottage can often feel overwhelming.
So can you, as property owners, ensure that your holiday cottage is suitable – and welcoming – for someone with autism? Holiday Cottage Compare shows you how.
What is autism spectrum disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder – or autism for short – is the term given to a lifelong range of conditions, including, for example, Asperger syndrome, that affect communication, interests, social interaction and behaviour.
People with autism spectrum disorder feel, hear and see things differently. For them, the world can often feel overwhelming, which then results in heightened levels of anxiety.
How many people in the UK are diagnosed with autism?
It is currently estimated that over 700,000 people in the UK (more than 1 in every 100 people) have autism spectrum disorder.
What are the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder?
By virtue of the fact that it’s a spectrum disorder, the symptoms of ASD will therefore vary from individual to individual. But in general, people with ASD have more difficulty with social interaction and communication.
Babies often evade eye contact and as they grow older, they struggle to understand and interpret body language, facial expressions and gestures.
For children with ASD, routine is often extremely important and any change to it can result in tantrums. Some children with ASD will focus on repetitive actions, for example, lining up toys or constantly opening and closing doors etc. They may also experience associated conditions such as anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
One of the challenges of the disorder is that people with ASD do not look like they have a disability. Which can mean that adults often feel misunderstood and parents of children with ASD frequently report that other people dismiss their child’s behaviour as being naughty.
So how can I ensure that my holiday cottage accommodation is autistic friendly?
Finding the perfect holiday cottage isn’t always quick and easy! And not surprisingly, finding one that meets the many needs of someone with autism can be even more of a challenge.
For someone with ASD, there are many more considerations than ‘where and when’ they would like to go.
So Holiday Cottage Compare has compiled a helpful checklist of 12 tips for accommodation owners and agents that will go a long to make the whole experience a lot easier for everyone.
What’s important when looking for a holiday cottage for someone with autism?
The symptoms and needs of someone with autism spectrum disorder – by virtue of the fact that it’s a spectrum – are inevitably many and varied.
However, there are a number of helpful considerations that, as a property owner or holiday cottage letting agent, you might want to consider, in order to ensure that your cottage is as suitable as possible for someone who is autistic:
1. Accommodate sensory sensitivity
People with ASD often need somewhere quiet to retreat to, away from the hustle and bustle.
Is your cottage – or some part of it – away from the crowds? Perhaps it features a snug that might be away from the main (and noisy) lounge?
If it is a property that shares its grounds with other cottages, are there any quiet spaces away from people and external stimulus?
If your property is rural or secluded, make sure you call this out in the copy – it can be hugely appealing for someone really wanting to escape from it all.
2. Include as many photos as possible
Planning in advance of a trip can help alleviate any concerns someone with ASD might have about a break away. And so having photographs of a property – both its interior and exterior – can make this process even easier.
As with any listing for a holiday cottage, great quality photos are very often what sells, so it’s important to prioritise these. Include pictures of all the key rooms where possible – all the bedrooms rather than, say, just the master bedroom.
And make sure that if you have an outside space or garden, that this is also well documented. Not just to show your property off in the best light but also to help families check, for example, that there is a decent fence surrounding the garden to stop would-be escapees or that the swimming pool has some form of safe, restricted access.
One of the most effective ways to communicate the interior and exterior of your property is to use 3D ‘step in’ photography, that then lets the user click ‘into’ the picture, to immerse themselves in each photo and navigate 360 degrees around each room, taking themselves on a virtual tour.
Alternatively, video can also helpfully illustrate your property.
3. Enclose your garden
If your property contains an outside space then you might want to ensure that it is fully enclosed as some children with ASD can otherwise abscond.
This isn’t about erecting an 8ft scale-proof fence – but it’s making sure there are no obvious gaps that a child could get through, straight out on to the road.
Describing your property as having an enclosed garden won’t necessarily mean it’s impossible to escape from but it will reassure customers that it’s safer than most.
And if you also welcome dogs to your property, you’ll find an enclosed garden will be hugely attractive to pet owners too.
4. Secure your windows and doors
By the same token, being able to secure doors and windows is also critical, particularly on the first floor and above.
So safety catches and a high up bolt on a door can make all the difference.
5. Install a children’s play area
Children’s play areas can provide kids with ASD with hours of sensory entertainment so it’s a real bonus if you can include one with your holiday cottage.
If you have space to fit in a decent adventure play area, then it will be used time and time again – by all children!
But if you are limited for space, then it’s just as good to add a swing, a trampoline (make sure it’s enclosed) or a slide. They’re inexpensive additions and they can make a real difference to an ASD family that may prefer to spend more time in the cottage than most.
Similarly, a holiday cottage with a games room has a universal appeal – but also to those with autism, who might prefer to spend time playing snooker or pool.
And if there really isn’t any room at all to include your own play equipment, it can still be helpful to make sure any listing for your property mentions a nearby play area or park – including what equipment there is and whether or not it has an enclosed space (most usually are).
6. Feature a swimming pool
Many children with ASD love water and so a swimming pool could be a great addition to your holiday cottage.
Of course, very few owners have a property with a pool! But for those that do, it’s worth making a feature of it.
Whether it’s indoor or outdoor, it is always reassuring to know that the pool cannot be accessed by a young child or vulnerable person who is unsupervised.
And if it’s a shared pool, is there any way you could offer a rota for those holiday makers using it, so they can be sure to have private access for a limited period each day?
As with the play areas, if you don’t have a swimming pool with your holiday cottage, make sure your listing lets the customer know if there is a pool or leisure centre nearby.
7. Include a hot tub
A hot tub holiday cottage can provide a great alternative to a cottage with a swimming pool – and it’s usually much cheaper to install and run!
With more and more people looking for hot tubs when they search for a holiday cottage, it makes great commercial sense to include one with your accommodation.
Plus, unlike an outdoor pool, there is the added benefit of being able to use it year round, whatever the weather.
Not only will someone with ASD love it, the rest of the party are likely to jump in and relax too. Which can be particularly helpful for parents who want to wind down in the evening, once everyone else is in bed – but who can’t obviously otherwise leave the house.
8. Feature a downstairs bedroom and bathroom
Whilst a holiday cottage with a downstairs bedroom and bathroom might not be an obvious consideration for someone with autism, it might help the family, if, for example, someone in the party has additional mobility needs – or perhaps doesn’t settle well upstairs whilst others are downstairs in the evening.
Of course, many cottages have a fairly fixed layout but at Holiday Cottage Compare, we are increasingly finding that properties which offer flexible sleeping accommodation are increasing in popularity. So if you can also install a walk in shower or wet room to your downstairs bathroom, you will widen your property’s appeal quite considerably.
9. Offer free Internet and WiFi
There can be very few people who holiday now who don’t want access to WiFi, so it makes commercial sense to provide free internet access to all guests – including a password that’s easy to enter!
10. Welcome pets at your holiday cottages
Some people with ASD benefit from having a pet and the last thing they want is to leave them behind.
So if you accept pets, again make this clear in a listing. And if you accept one dog – could you allow say 3 or 4? It might sound like a lot but more and more people are looking for cottages that accept more than one dog – especially if it’s a larger house and there’s more than one family or group of friends attending.
And if you don’t accept dogs, then make it clear that your property might be suitable for someone with allergies to animals.
11. Avoid property maintenance whilst guests are resident
Ordinarily, most guests in a holiday cottage will happily accommodate a gardener coming once a week to mow the lawn or make minor repairs.
But for someone with ASD, this can really upset them if they have an aversion to things like mowers and drills. So if you can liaise with guests and offer reassurance that any out of the ordinary activity won’t take place whilst they are in the cottage, you’ll be going a long way to help make their stay more relaxing.
12. Create a relaxing environment
A relaxing environment is an obvious requirement for all of us when we go away to a holiday cottage. But if someone in the party has ASD, then some of the little changes can make absolutely huge differences.
For example, some people with ASD are ‘sensory avoiders’ so certain surfaces will set them on edge – shiny surfaces for example, like chrome or laminate flooring. Scratchy plates can put them off eating. We’re not suggesting for one minute that you change your kitchen flooring! But it can really help if you describe your flooring in your property descriptions.
Having lamps or dimmer switches on lights helps provide comfort – and peaceful nights too.
And lastly, strong artificial smells can be overbearing – so try to avoid reed diffusers and plug in air fresheners in favour of cleaning products without harmful chemicals – it’s a great reason to support the environment too!
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A message from Paula Alexander, Managing Director at Holiday Cottage Compare:
We passionately believe that finding a holiday cottage to rent in the UK should be quick and easy, which is why we are constantly working to improve the experience for our users.
So if you are looking to stay in a holiday cottage for your next break away, we have a wonderful selection of over 12,000 holiday cottages throughout the UK.
Or if you would rather make a much needed cup of tea and let us do the hard work for you, just let us know what you are looking for in your next holiday cottage and we will gladly give you a hand.