Nfld. & Labrador

Autism-amiable accommodations make Hotel Port Aux Basques a pioneer in Canada

Having a quiet room while vacationing has a deeper meaning for people with autism, and a western Newfoundland hotel is the first in the country.

New guestroom and sensory room aim to help parents feel 'comfortable and safe,' says owner

The group Autism In Me (AIM) approached Hotel Port Aux Basques owner Cathy Lomond about donating existing space within the facility so it could transformed into a sensory, or quiet, room. (Submitted by Hotel Port Aux Basques)

Having a quiet room while vacationing can have a deep meaning for people with autism, and Hotel Port Aux Basques is the first in the country to offer accommodations specifically designed for those with the condition.

The idea was born "after meeting with some of the parents who described how difficult it was travelling with their children who have autism spectrum disorder," says hotel owner Cathy Lomond.

The modifications to one of the guest rooms in the hotel, located on Grand Bay Road, involved securing pictures to the wall, placing other items like coffee makers in drawers with safety locks and putting chain locks higher up on doors, to prevent "wanderers" from getting out.

Safety locks in dresser drawers, where items like a coffee maker can be stored, and a strategically-placed door lock are some of the modifications in the autism-friendly guestroom at Hotel Port Aux Basques. (Submitted by Hotel Port aux Basques)

"I call it minor adaptations that we had to use, but again making the parents feel safe in the room," said Lomond.

New sensory room, too

Lomond also donated an existing space in the hotel to the Port aux Basques group Autism Involves Me (AIM) so that it could be transformed into a sensory, or quiet, room.

She said the group raised money for the finished product, which boasts special mat flooring and dimmed lighting as special features.  

Hotel owner Cathy Lomond said the modifications to the autism-friendly guestroom aren't easily recognized, but extra locks on the doors and items bolted to the walls, can offer parents better peace of mind. (Submitted by Hotel Port Aux Basques)

"The quiet room is very bright and colourful with the mural painted on the wall. As well, on one of the walls in there, they can climb … if you decide that you need to burn off some energy," Lomond told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

Anyone can use this room, including non-hotel guests. 

"Some of the local parents have brought their children to the quiet room and used it, and they've really, really liked it," said Lomond. 

Personal motivation for inclusion

Lomond said she didn't need much convincing that these small changes and gestures could go a long way, once AIM members reached out to her.

Cathy Lomond, owner of Hotel Port Aux Basques, says her sister has Down Syndrome and that is part of the reason why she wants to make her hotel more inclusive. (Cathy Lomond/Twitter)

"I have a sister that has Down syndrome, and my parents always included her in anything we did. So I know how challenging it can be to travel with children that have any type of a special need," she said. 

"I just wanted to be able to make anyone travelling with an autistic child have a place that they could go and feel comfortable and safe."

Lomond went a step further and brought in resources last month so that all front-line staff could be trained about autism spectrum disorder. 

She said the response to the new spaces has been "overwhelming" with other hotel operators reaching out to her — and Lomond ultimately hopes she has set an example that others in the hospitality industry follow. 

"I never thought just doing this — because I saw a need — would give me, I guess, rewards," said Lomond.

"Maybe our province will be the first province that is autism spectrum-friendly."

With files from Corner Brook Morning Show