Rolling Out the Welcome Mat for Travelers With Autism

When Nicole Thibault had her first child, she imagined traveling everywhere with him. But by age 2, he would become upset by simply passing a restaurant that smelled of garlic. Waiting in line elicited tantrums and crowded places overwhelmed him. Autism was diagnosed within the year.

“I thought maybe our family dream of travel wouldn’t happen,” said Ms. Thibault, 46, of Fairport, N.Y., who now has three children. But she spent the next three years learning to prepare her son for travel by watching videos of future destinations and attractions so that he would know what to expect. The preparation helped enable him, now 14 and well-traveled, to enjoy adventures as challenging as exploring caves in Mexico. It also encouraged Ms. Thibault to launch a business, Magical Storybook Travels, planning travel for families with special needs.

Now the travel industry is catching up to the family. A growing number of theme parks, special attractions and hotels are introducing autism training and sensory guides that highlight triggers, providing resources in times of need and assuring families they won’t be judged.