Skip to main content

News and Knowledge

Autistic individuals and their families have an expanding number of vacation destinations and activities available to them. What makes Myrtle Beach, N.C., unique is its unified, community-wide approach. According to a Toronto Star article, Myrtle Beach and its neighbor Surfside Beach were the first vacation destinations in the United States to be certified as autism-friendly, Surfside Beach in 2016 and Myrtle Beach in 2018.  

That’s due in no small part to resident Becky Large, who has an autistic child. She started the Champion Autism Network (CAN) in 2012. Today, CAN certifies communities, businesses, and organizations and trains their employees to better understand autism and how to help autistic people have a good experience. The organization also provides CAN cards to autistic individuals and their families giving them access to a list of communities and organizations. According to the CAN website, the card allows its holder to quietly identify themselves or a family member as someone who may need special accommodations.  

Large’s hometown has taken CAN’s mission to heart, providing autistic visitors, young and old alike, and their families with a vacation destination that caters to the needs of autistic people. It begins with the Myrtle Beach airport where a quiet room offers autistic people and their families a private space to decompress and relax.  

Hotels, restaurants, and other places in Myrtle Beach have also participated in CAN training to educate staff on how to ensure comfort, privacy, and a relaxing, fun experience. Hotel guests with CAN cards, can take advantage of curbside check-in and check-out, for example, as well as rooms that are situated in quiet areas. At restaurants, they can get preferred seating and discounts. Local attractions offer special services like special times and days for people who have sensory issues, noise-canceling headphones, the option to move to the front of the line, and sensory-friendly events 

Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s Project Lifesaver offers wristbands that emit a tracking signal for autistic children and teens prone to wandering. A trained team can then use a mobile locator tracking system to find a lost person wearing a wristband. 

Recently the City of Myrtle Beach announced its employees will also be trained to support residents and visitors of all abilities, as noted on the WMBF News site. City employees will receive training specific to their jobs so that first responders, for example, will learn how to respond to calls involving autistic individuals and to better understand how to de-escalate situations. 

In addition, Visit Myrtle Beach, the tourism bureau, is in the process of establishing a sensory-friendly advisory panel with experts in the autism and sensory fields and those with direct experience or an autism or related diagnosis to inform and improve Myrtle Beach’s sensory-friendly programming. 

Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.