This Airbnb in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, is a special type of rental property. It’s the first travel accommodation in the state to be certified as an autism-friendly facility, making it the perfect location for a family vacation for those with a loved one on the autism spectrum.
The Airbnb’s owners know how difficult it can be to vacation when someone in your family has special needs, and they’re doing everything they can to make sure your stay is as sensory-friendly as possible. Their three-bedroom ranch-style rental house is as neutral and accommodating as can be.
Kimberly Gunderson, the property manager, has a five-year-old son who was diagnosed with ADHD and sensory-processing disorder. It can be difficult for her to take him places without bringing along a kit full of his favorite items that help him cope with unfamiliar situations and sensory overload. When they travel, she only books Airbnbs—no hotels—because Airbnbs tend to be more private and have more amenities for her son, who has trouble calming down and may appear to be having a temper tantrum when he’s overwhelmed.
So when Gunderson’s family began talking about turning their property, which Gunderson’s grandparents built in the 1990s, into an Airbnb, she knew she wanted to make a few tweaks that would help it be more suitable to people with disabilities and special needs. Her family loved the idea.
For those individuals who can’t put up with strong colors, bright lights, and potent smells, this place is perfect. The walls are painted in airy neutral colors, the lighting is soft and warm, and all the soaps and detergents are unscented or have light natural scents. To prevent injury, the house has minimal decor, and all electrical outlets and sharp corners are covered. Motion sensors at the doors also ensure guests who are prone to eloping don’t wander away unnoticed.
“We give parents peace of mind, knowing that if their child tries to leave the room or house, which is very common, the motion sensor will go off,” says Gunderson. “And they are able to get up and take care of the situation.”
Around the home, there are also different amenities to help people on the spectrum self-soothe. A swing hangs in the corner of one room. A noise machine and a nightlight are there to help guests sleep. Weighted blankets, sunglasses, and noise-canceling headphones are available for anyone who might be overstimulated by their new surroundings. There are also fidget toys to help increase sensory input for those who need it.
There are even laminated “I need,” “I want,” and “I feel,” guides to help nonverbal guests communicate their emotions and desires. The Airbnb provides a backpack to place these and other sensory-friendly items in for excursions.
The family worked with Sensory City to get autism training, make appropriate adjustments and additions within the home, and, finally, get their autism-friendly certification. Now their home is available to anyone with PTSD, ADD, ADHD, autism, or sensory-processing disorder.
“There’s a huge amount of people out there that don’t feel welcome, that don’t feel included, that don’t feel like they can travel,” says Kimberly Buonavolanto, director of development at Sensory City.
The rental property, which currently goes for $413 per night, is located at 32 South Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. If you’re headed that way for a vacation or just looking for a sensory-friendly place to travel, check it out and let us know what you think! But be sure to reserve your rental well in advance, because we’re sure this unique place is going to be booked up in a hurry!
We hope this story can serve as an inspiration for owners of other Airbnbs and hotels. It’s not easy to travel with someone on the autism spectrum, but having more accommodations like this available around the world could make the experience much more pleasant! Check out the video below to see the home.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?