I know one of the biggest challenges you guys have with travel is finding accommodations where you are comfortable and have enough privacy and space. When I connected with VillaKey, a vacation home rental company in Florida, I was really excited to learn that there is a company who really did their research in the autism community and are passionate about serving us. I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with founder Alice Horn and her colleague Steve Turk to learn more about VillaKey and how they support the ASD community.
The inspiration for autism-friendly vacation homes comes from Alice’s childhood. When Alice was a kid, her family didn’t go on vacation together very much. Her dad had Aspergers and it was too much of a struggle for him to stay in a hotel room with the rest of the family. I can relate to that, and I know most of you can, too! Alice and her family did, however, enjoy vacations where they were able to stay in a home with a relative. They could spend some time together and retreat to the privacy of their own room when necessary.
Alice wants other families to have an opportunity to make great memories together. Since VillaKey started offering autism-friendly homes, the response has been great. Alice recalls one touching review from a mom: “One really touched me. A young single mom wrote a review thanking us because she had been able, for the very first time, to go on vacation with her autistic son. It was enough like their real home that her son could be comfortable there.”
VillaKey has really done their homework, too. Rather than seeking feedback only from autism professionals, they interviewed autistic people and families with autistic children. They only recently added the autism-friendly home rentals to their website and have already had a very positive response, since so few businesses are really responding to the needs of autistic travelers.
“When we did research on autism friendly hotels, there is only a very small handful of hotels in the U.S. and Caribbean. We are hoping to really provide a network of vacation rentals across the country.” Opening up the market is sure to positively impact their business as they reach out to more families and others in the travel industry can really learn a lot from the VillaKey model. They plan to expand first throughout the U.S. and then to other countries, and although their primary customer is a family with an autistic child, their rental homes meet the needs of autistic adults, as well.
One key to their success is an understanding that autism is a spectrum disorder, and that no two autistic people are alike. Beyond the quiet areas, soft lighting, soft or neutral colors, and fragrance free cleaning products, lies a deeper understanding of serving the individual. Every VillaKey property manager is a Certified Autism Travel Professional (CATP) and is required to donate at least one stay every year to help a deserving family living with autism go on vacation.
I haven’t had a chance to stay at a VillaKey property yet but look forward to a stay sometime early in the new year after I return from India. I’ll provide a thorough review for you guys at that time.
For autistic individuals and families
You can learn more about VillaKey’s autism-friendly homes and find a rental home in Orlando or that works for you at https://myvillakey.com/autism-friendly. An if you want to support The Autistic Travel Coach, use the code KATIEVK when you book your rental. You will help us continue to provide the best resources and highest quality services to autistic travelers at no additional cost to you.
If the cost of a vacation like this is prohibitive for your family, you may qualify for a discount. VillaKey contributes a percentage of each booking to support travel expenses for families who struggle with autism and do not have the resources to afford a vacation on their own.
Each year, VillaKey and their property managers set aside several long weekends in a vacation home to donate to deserving families. If you know a family who struggles to pay for a vacation, you can recommend them for this program by calling VillaKey at 1-407-569-2280.
For travel industry professionals
For those of you who want to make your vacation rental property autism-friendly, start by contacting Villa Key!