Sawgrass Marriott is first Florida resort to become Certified Autism Center

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Seeking to better accommodate guests with autism and other related cognitive disorders, the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach recently partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to become a Certified Autism Center — and the first resort in Florida to do so.

Sawgrass Marriott Director of Human Resources Michelle Criswell said the certification, which was announced to resort staff at a quarterly meeting on Oct. 24, would help to ensure all guests were equally cared for.

“All of us at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa are committed to creating brilliant experiences to each and every one of our guests every day,” Criswell said. “Being a resort, this may include families or individuals with autism or sensory needs. We are excited to partner with IBCCES to become certified and obtain the resources to assist with guests in this space and ensure they have a memorable experience.” 

Based in Jacksonville, IBCCES provides research-based training and certifications for professionals around the world in the areas of autism and other cognitive disorders, and according to IBCCES President Meredith Tekin, earning and retaining the Certified Autism Center designation requires an ongoing commitment on the part of an organization toward serving the autism community.

“They have to have 80 percent of their client-facing staff certified,” Tekin explained. “They go through a training program, it’s evidence-based, and we have an advisory board of experts from neurologists to special education, to individuals on the spectrum, so our programs are really high-quality.”

Adding that organizations must also become recertified every two years, Tekin said the ultimate goal of the training program is to help individuals with autism, as well as their companions, to feel just as comfortable and cared for as other guests when traveling to destinations like the Sawgrass Marriott.

“It’s really important for families to have a safe space where they feel they’re going to be understood and just have options, because there’s still a lot of stigma out there,” she said. “For them to have a place that they can go and feel like they’re actually on a vacation and enjoy themselves and know that the staff can help them if they need to, it is a huge weight off their shoulders.”

With the resort now counted among those “safe spaces,” Sawgrass Marriott General Manager Todd Hickey said obtaining the Certified Autism Center designation was just another example of his staff’s commitment toward “putting people first.”  

“We really think that being trained to comfort and take care of people who have autism or are on the spectrum in some way, parents and children alike, it’s really going to be a treat for us to be able to provide special care for them and make them feel comfortable and able to enjoy a fabulous vacation here at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa,” he said.

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