By Dr. Chris O’Shea
We are recently back from another family trip to Beaches Ocho Rios. We were aware of the recent IBCCES certification of the resort and were curious as to how this would affect our trip. The staff was wonderful as always. As returning guests, we were welcomed as soon as our van stopped. Our understanding was that Kids Camp and pool staff had received training for working with children on the spectrum. We were also pleasantly surprised to learn that the manager at each restaurant and one of the servers had also received training. At dinner, one of the staff who didn’t know our normal pattern asked about the kids. We explained that they had Asperger’s/Autism and she explained that she was one of the staff who had received IBCCES training. This was helpful information as we were unaware that training had been extended to restaurant staff. I could see that it would be of a substantial benefit to many families.
On this trip, we didn’t have much direct contact with the Kid’s Camp staff. Both our children found friends to play with and spent time together with their new friends on a daily basis. Consequently, both kids were busy enough and chose not to go to Kids Camp. Luckily, they are both at the stage where they don’t need as much direct supervision. The pool staff were great and regularly asked about our children if they hadn’t been to the slides that day.
The highlight of our trip was the remarkable progress made by our son. Reunion Week had a Catamaran cruise for returning guests. We have done this in the past, but this year saw real progress for Sebastian. In past years he has struggled just to get in the water. He is very aware that there will be sea life around him. In the past, despite his repeated efforts, he was unable to snorkel. This year his hair was much shorter (hair cutting has always been one of his major sensory issues), so he was able to get the mask on successfully. He then snorkeled until it was time to go back to the resort.
Building on this success, and with the direct support of the resort staff, we were able to go on two (family only) snorkeling trips. Both were very successful. On the second, Sebastian snorkeled for about an hour and swam everywhere with Livingstone (who has been assigned to help him). From three excellent snorkeling sessions, we were able to have Sebastian start the “Bubbles” (Intro to Scuba) program. We had some concerns about how he might react to all the requirements, but (with Ryan’s instruction) he took to it rapidly. He completed all the required pre-checks and finished the session swimming multiple laps of the French pool completely under water. This was huge step forward for Sebastian; he has wanted to scuba since he was three. We have tried Sebastian in ‘special needs’ programs at the local YMCA and never had any success. The reality is that Beaches provides highly experienced staff who can actually work with special needs children who actually care about their success. This has never been our experience with any other program.
Our daughter enjoyed playing with her new friend. This was a positive step for her as she has frequently struggled with making new friends. If they weren’t in the main pool or slides they were back in our room playing Minecraft, Xbox, or watching videos on YouTube. Tryphena also was able to snorkel with us on all three trips. For some reason, she was apprehensive about the Catamaran cruise this year, but once we got her on the boat she was fine. Her preferred location is right at the front of the netting so she can get splashed by as many waves as possible. She joined in the snorkeling off the Catamaran and happily snorkeled on our family trips. She would love to scuba but as she is only 9, she is not old enough yet.
Once again, we would recommend Beaches Resorts (and Ocho Rios in particular) to families traveling with children on the spectrum. Returning to Beaches really is like going home. You’re not treated as guests, you’re treated as family.