80%. That's the number of families with autism who don’t feel comfortable traveling because of fear of rejection, judgment, and lack of services. Well, fortunately, one city in the USA decided to make travel easier for people with limitations. In 2022, the businesses in the city of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and the surrounding areas are continuing their inclusion efforts by making a pledge to be welcoming, supportive and accessible for families with autism. 

In 2013, a frustrated autism mom decided to do something to make a change in her community. Becky Large, founder of Champion Autism Network, figured out how to host sensory-friendly movies. This was the start of her efforts for teaching a community how to understand and support autism families living in and visiting the area.  By 2015, Sufside Beach became the first certified autism-friendly city in the nation! Businesses saw the value of welcoming this untapped market and they expressed pride in being able to help others. Champion Autism Network now offers training to businesses to educate them about autism and show them how to best accommodate family’s needs.

“The Beach is for everyBODY: Sensory-Friendly Pledge” unites businesses and helps to boost the economy and the health of the city’s tourism appeal. In an effort to be able to serve all neurodiverse populations Champion Autism Network is collaborating with Travelability, a company that specializes in travel practices for all disabilities, and Visit Myrtle Beach. 

In an effort to continue the excitement around being inclusive numerous local businesses have made the pledge this year to… 

  • Provide an inclusive space for visitors of all abilities

  • Practice patience and problem-solving in all situations

  • Cultivate a space of acceptance and helpfulness

"We are so grateful to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the business community for their willingness to support those with sensory issues and autism.  Taking “The Beach is for everyBODY: Sensory-Friendly Pledge” is an easy first step toward autism awareness and Champion Autism Network is here to help those businesses that want to take it to the next level and train their staff on the needs and accommodations of people living with autism." - Becky Large, CAN Founder/Director

For the business that chooses to invest in training, they are well educated in what autism is and how it can present itself. They are also taught how to be helpful, welcoming and understanding for this neurodiverse population. In the Surfside Beach community, even the first responders have been trained and are proud members of the CAN family. There are three ways in which you can invest in autism families. The accepting level, which does not provide training, lets visitors to your business know that you welcome them. The supportive level includes training for you and your staff. This training empowers you to not only welcome families, but also understand their situation and know how best to serve them through accommodations and supports. This training is available for restaurants, attractions, first responders and retailers. The Champion level offers a deeper level of information plus guidance for how to host an autism friendly event, safety protocols and more. Resorts, large attractions and hotels really benefit from this. All businesses who invest in CAN’s mission receive a sticker for their door indicating they are autism friendly. Businesses are also encouraged to provide a small service or discount to families who present a CAN card, which is a dignified and private way to them you know there is an autism family present. Once a family knows about you, they tell others and the positive reviews will follow! 

Some of the current CAN family members are Ripley’s Aquarium Myrtle Beach, Edventure in Market Common, Old Chicago Pizza and Pub, Saltaire Coastal Kitchen, BlueGreen Vacations and more. Visit CAN’s website for current listings.

 Even vacationers can access a CAN card for their time in Myrtle Beach by visiting CAN’s website to request a card. If they are in town during the school year, CAN provides numerous supported events such as movies, bowling, Time with a State Park Ranger, Big Air Trampoline Park Sensory-friendly Jumping, Sensory-friendly visit to Ripley’s Aquarium and more! Check CAN’s Facebook page for the latest events. 

CAN is now available nationwide for any business that expresses an earnest interest in helping autism families. You too, CAN make a difference!

Take the Beach is for everyBody: Sensory-Friendly Pledge today!