After hearing about the new MAX Program at the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim resort, our Autism TravelingMom decided to see what the buzz was about. As she discovered, the trailblazing program geared to families with autism is comprehensive and works well for most.
Last month, the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort introduced their MAX Program, geared towards helping families with autism. Invented to help and assist families, the MAX Program was created by Alexander Behuras, a high school teen, and hotel manager Ian Gee. Alexander thought a program geared towards helping families with autism was needed in hotels, especially after traveling the world with his brother Max, who has autism.
About Sheraton Park Hotel’s New Max Program
After consulting with specialists and families as to what accommodations and amenities were needed, the hotel came up with a comprehensive program. First, a behavior therapist taught the staff about autism and trained them how to deal with different situations. Second, the hotel restaurant added gluten and casein free items to its menu. And finally, the hotel invested $8,000 in the purchases of various sensory items for the program.
Test driving the MAX Program
Last week, my family and I were able to be one of the first guests to ‘test drive’ the MAX Program. After I booked my stay, the MAX coordinator called me and asked me questions from their in-depth questionnaire. The questionnaire was very accurate and allows the hotel to know what challenges your family has, then come up with a plan to help you.
The Pre-Arrival Questionnaire
The first questions revolved around sensory issues and sensitivities to crowds, noises, and lights. The coordinator needed to know answers to these matters to determine which room to assign to us. In addition, I was asked if we preferred a room on the lower levels or higher levels, and if an adult rollaway bed was needed.
Piggybacking in the first questions, she asked if our son was verbal and comfortable with staff talking to him. I found this very insightful, as some kids on the spectrum are not comfortable with strangers addressing them. She even asked if our son had temperature sensitivities and his preferred temperature of the room.
Next came questions about special diets. The agent wished to know whether my son had any food allergies or preferences. She then proceeded to mention that the Sheraton Park Hotel now offers gluten-free items.
Items and Services Available Through the MAX Program
It turns out the hotel has its patrons with autism covered. The property offers anti-slip bath mats and diaper genies when needed. For entertainment, they offer items like tablets and portable DVDs with headphones. For safety, they have electrical outlet covers, bed rails, and door alarms.
Best of all, they also have items that can help with sensory challenges like weighted blankets, weighted vests, balance pods, therapy balls, unique silverware and sippy cups. They even have bean bags!
The lady doing our initial intake mentioned that the gift store even stocks hand sanitizers, adult diapers, and armband floaties.
But that ‘s not all! The hotel also helps connect guests with local services. They can assist in renting wheelchairs or strollers as well as contact respite services to give parents a much-needed break.
Day of Arrival
I did call the front desk and let them know we would be arriving after 5 p.m. because of the heavy LA traffic. It turns out that the maps app was pointing me to the wrong side of the road to enter the hotel. Later I found out the north side entrance is the easiest to enter the Sheraton Park Hotel.
When we arrived, there were not that many people trying to check-in. Someone did come and ask my name. As soon as I responded, one of the senior members greeted my son and me and then proceeded to check us in a flash. Not only was he super helpful but, like the lady over the phone, quite excited to tell me all about the MAX Program.
He handed me the list of amenities the program offered along with the local autism-friendly entertainment venues. I was thrilled! I hope other hotels will copy the program too.
The senior member who checked us in, who introduced himself as Warren, ended up walking us to our room (review available in the link). I thought this was a great touch especially as the hotel has more than one building. Our room was in the tall main building on the right facing the parks. As requested, the room had all the amenities and accommodations we asked for, and was quiet and feather free. Before he left, Warren made sure we got everything we had asked for and filled me in on the different gluten-free items the restaurant was offering.
The hotel pool area is one of the property highlights. For a minute, you can feel like you are somewhere in Hawaii or the Caribbean. Since our son is an active swimmer, I didn’t ask for anything special, but a staff member mentioned they have floaties for the less experienced kids.
The hotel store looks like a well-stocked mini mart, which is a bit unusual for a hotel. They had pastries and Starbucks coffee, which we got in the morning. Furthermore, they do stock diapers including swim diapers, souvenirs and additional pool toys for purchase.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to dine at the hotel restaurant. With that said, I do want to mention that the restaurant has a special MAX menu that families need to know about. They can also provide kids with entertainment during their meals. Items like tablets, DVD players, and special utensils including sippy cups all make mealtime enjoyable for the whole family. Also, they try to seat you as fast as possible.
List of Recommendations
During check-in, I received printed packet with information about Disneyland, sensory movie screenings at the AMC movie theaters and Adventure City, the smallest theme park in the area. They also mentioned the Orange County’s Discovery Cube and The Irvine Regional Park with its small zoo. Surprisingly missing was Knott’s Berry Farm, which is very autism-friendly, and Big Air Trampoline Park in Buena Park.
All in all, we loved the MAX Program. Our son loved the colorful bracelet he was given that helped identify him as part of the MAX Program!
I would also like to salute the staff at the Sheraton Park hotel for reaching out to families with autism. Though the program doesn’t cover everything, it is an excellent start. Based on our stay, we feel that the enthusiastic staff will continue adding additional accommodations to help even more guests.
In the future, I hope to see more hotels worldwide having such a hands-on approach to autism. I feel that if more programs like this existed, more families with autism would take a ‘leap of faith’ and travel instead of being deterred by the possible challenges.
What part of the MAX Program would be beneficial to your family? Do you want to see more programs like this too?