Visit Visalia earns Certified Autism Center status

Designation makes Visit Visalia California’s first tourism marketing organization to be certified to assist families with autistic members

VISALIA – There is a saying among people who have autistic family members, “If you’ve met one person with autism … then you’ve met one person with autism.”

This seemingly circular logic sentence is in fact an accurate statement about a disease which effects each individual differently and why you hear the phrase “on the spectrum” when talking about diagnoses of autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects one in 54 children each year and is on the rise, according to estimates from Center for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. For those unsure what autism is and how it affects their interactions with people on the spectrum, locals and those visiting from out of town don’t have to go far to find the answers to this incurable yet common disorder. Experts in how to assist those with autistic children without judgment or misunderstandings can head downtown to Visit Visalia.

The tourism marketing organization which promotes Visalia and the surrounding area recently announced its designation as a Certified Autism Center. The certification is awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), which oversees training and certification in the field of cognitive disorders created by The Autism Society of America, the largest grassroots autism organization in the world. This training expands the team’s readiness to assist families and individuals with special needs to prepare for and to enjoy inclusive and accessible travel to Visalia and the nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

“As the first destination marketing organization in California to complete the IBCCES training and be designated a Certified Autism Center, Visit Visalia is proud to provide memorable experiences to all families visiting Visalia and our adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks,” Visit Visalia executive director Nellie Freeborn said. “As a mother of a child with autism, and a tourism and hospitality professional, I personally relate to the challenges families experience when traveling. This autism certification provides a deeper understanding and compassion—it is part of our mission to show families that Visalia is dedicated to serving people with Autism.”

In fact, it is the first tourism entity to earn that distinction in California. The certification enables Visit Visalia to better serve the more than 32 million travelers each year by highlighting the city’s desire to provide its visitors a “spectrum of travel possibilities.” Visit Visalia will hold a press conference about being the first destination marketing organization in California to achieve the designation from 8 to 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 10. The public is invited to come to the Grand Ballroom at the Visalia Convention Center and learn about the positive implications on the community and its guests.

“Visit Visalia and its board of directors are pleased to partner with IBCCES to become an autism-certified destination marketing organization. This important designation will let individuals with special needs travel with confidence knowing we have completed this specialized training and can provide a positive vacation experience,” Visit Visalia board chair Anil Chagan said.

As the first destination marketing organization in California to achieve this designation, Visit Visalia is taking the lead by requesting partner hospitality businesses follow its lead and invest in this specialized training. Benefits to certification include national recognition, listing on the Autism Travel website, increased guest satisfaction scores, and even a boost in employee morale. To date, the local hospitality partner businesses that have signed on to complete autism sensitivity training and awareness include the Comfort Suites Visalia Hotel, Hampton Inn Visalia, Visalia Marriott at the Convention Center, Valley Oaks Golf Course, Visalia Wyndham, Lamp Liter Inn, and Naturally Nuts.

Visit Visalia is also initiating a movement with the help of IBCCES to become a Certified Autism Destination (CAD). The CAD designation is awarded to destination where key community areas, including hotels, museums, attractions, entertainment venues, and other tourism organizations are trained and certified to better serve autistic individuals and those with other sensory disorders. Visit Visalia’s team is taking the first steps to help build a more inclusive community.

IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism training for licensed healthcare professionals and educators around the globe for 20 years. Florida-based IBCCES created training and certification programs after recognizing that many families with children who have special needs have limited travel options.

“IBCCES is excited to be a part of Visit Visalia’s initiative to serve autistic individuals and their families better. Organizations like Visit Visalia are vital to creating more inclusive communities for residents and visitors alike,” IBCCES chairman Myron Pincomb said.

Visit Visalia is a collaboration of the Visalia Tourism and Marketing District and the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCVB) dedicated to marketing, advertising, public relations and other promotional efforts that inspire travel to the City of Visalia. Visit Visalia works closely with local lodging properties, restaurants and attractions to foster interest in Visalia as a year-round destination for leisure, family, and meeting and convention travelers. For more information about Visit Visalia go to and follow Visit Visalia on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Pinterest.

According to Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.”

The autism spectrum ranges from those who are severely challenged to gifted. Mild autism, also known as high functioning autism, refers to those who read, write, speak, and manage life skills without much assistance. Severe autism refers to those with limited communication and language abilities. For example, if they can speak, they repeat words and phrases they hear others say or say only a few words that do not fit the context of the conversation.

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