Kent woman among growing number of autism travel professionals

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SEATTLE — A growing number of trip planners are becoming certified autism travel professionals. The goal is to guide families to destinations that go the extra mile for guests with special needs.

As a mother of four, Jennifer Hardy understands how hectic it can be to travel with kids. But add special needs to the mix, and many families like hers just stick with stay-cations.

“There’s just the fear of, am I going to get kicked off an airplane? Am I going to have my child run and jump overboard on a cruise ship? All of those are major fears and they’re valid,” said Hardy, whose family lives in Kent.

Each of her children struggles with autism, anxiety, or sensory issues, but that doesn’t stop them from taking vacations multiple times a year. Hardy just took her four-year-old daughter Leora on a Disney cruise to the Caribbean.

“I want to open the doors to the families that really do need that vacation,” she said.

Hardy, a franchise owner for Cruise Planners, just became a certified autism travel professional. It’s an official stamp of approval from an internationally recognized board, meant for travel agents and trip planners who want to help families with the daunting task of planning a getaway.

The certification means Hardy understands what autism looks like, what guests needs might be, and what questions she should ask.

She also knows which cruise lines and resorts make special accommodations for families with special needs.

“We can make it safe and secure for you, we can make it safe for your children, and there are certified people there to help you through that whole process, from the time that you’re ready to start thinking about your vacation all the way until the time you return home,” Hardy said.

She and her family have a busy summer planned with an Oregon roadtrip and Alaska cruise. Even with their challenges, it is possible to escape.

“We just love traveling and my kids love traveling,” Hardy said.

More information on how to find a certified autism travel professional here.

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