Families with autism who want to get close to nature have a new option available in Gros Morne National Park.
Parks Canada has adapted one of its rustic cabins at the Berry Hill Campground to make it autism-friendly.
“There is no secret recipe to convert a cabin into an autism-friendly cabin,” says Francois Duclos, acting visitor experience manager for Gros Morne.
“It’s more about making the place feel soothing, feel welcoming, feel familiar to people, to create a sense of security, a sense of safety, to avoid surprises, most likely negative surprises, within the cabin.”
Lower light, higher security
Duclos said the changes that have been made include window coverings so the light isn’t so harsh and stimulating to someone with autism.
“It’s all about using material, accessories, textures, colours, light, in order to create this environment that will soothe them, that will comfort them, and that will prevent any negative reaction.”
‘We are on the right track.’
– Francois Duclos
Extra security features have also been added to doors, such as latches to safeguard against wandering.
In addition, Parks Canada worked with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Autism Involves Me group in Port aux Basques to come up with kits of items that are suitable for people with sensory issues.
Help before you arrive
Duclos says the extra help for people with autism starts at the time of booking, when additional information will be provided to prepare them for their visit.
“They would be given a guide with photos of what to expect, with visuals of what they will see, with warnings about what they need to pay attention to,” Duclos told the Corner Brook Morning Show.
“Most people, when they arrive to a place, can easily cope with the surprises, but what happens with people with autism is they need a little bit more support in order to go through this process.”
A musical group, The Sons of Ned, were the first people to use the revamped cabin. The band has a drummer and a piano player who have autism.
They recently toured in Gros Morne and were delighted that accommodations were available that had been adapted for people on the autism spectrum.
“Gros Morne, here at the National Park, has these great rustic cabins that have been a little bit retrofitted for some specific needs,” said James McBeath of The Sons of Ned.
“The cool thing about Newfoundland is that they’ve really gone above and beyond in regards to helping families living with autism, and accessibility of all kinds.”
McBeath was referring to a hotel in Port aux Basques that has a sensory room and a guest room adapted for the needs of families with autism.
A sign of things to come
Duclos said Gros Morne National Park has started with just one autism-friendly cabin so that, based on visitor feedback, it can continue to improve on what’s been done so far.
“We are on the right track. The first reaction is indeed very positive, and we’re looking for additional feedback from future visitors.”
Duclos said having autism-inclusive cabins is directly linked to Parks Canada’s mandate.
“We’re there to make these places as accessible as possible to as many Canadians as possible. So this measure is definitely there to inspire people to visit places that otherwise they might not have felt comfortable visiting.”
“I think we’ve just planted a seed, and we’ll see how it grows. I firmly believe that this can inspire other parks in the province but also other parks nationwide to adopt practices that will suit the needs of people with autism.”