Visalia, California has been named a top destination for neurodiverse travelers, including those with autism, by Travel + Leisure Magazine. The recognition comes one year after Visalia became the first certified autism destination in the country.
Sherrie Bakke with Visit Visalia explained what it means to be “autism-certified” in an interview with Eyewitness News. She said 80% of forward facing-staff at the city’s hotels and attractions have received autism and neurodiversity training. Visit Visalia also offers special lanyards that can be worn at museums and other destinations to indicate sensitivity to sensory stimuli.
Many Visalia city leaders have received neurodiversity training as well. Visit Visalia continues to reach out to local businesses to offer training for autism certification.
In recent years, a growing number of cities and counties have signed onto the neurodiversity movement, which emphasizes acceptance and inclusion of neurodivergent people. This means increasing awareness about nuerodiversity and providing supports for those who process information differently, rather than constantly expecting them to adapt.
Some cities have worked to make their parks more sensory-friendly and trained law enforcement on interactions with autistic individuals. Last year, San Diego County supervisors approved a plan to recruit more neurodivergent people to the county's workforce.
One in 36 U.S. children is diagnosed with autism, according to the CDC. Nearly 10% of children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.