Our New Autism Sensory Room

sensory room

Every family deserves a great holiday and BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort is looking forward to launching the resort’s new sensory room this February, catering for children on the autism spectrum and their families by offering a special holiday retreat.

Named ‘The Reilly Room’, the facility features everything expected to be found in an autism specific educational setting and has been built by BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort in conjunction with volunteers from ‘The Reilly Room Project’.  The project was founded by Gail Watts, B.Ed (Hons), MLI (Disabs/Autism), Special Needs (autism) teacher and ex-holiday park worker.  Gail is the proud mother of Reilly, who had Asperger’s Syndrome and to whom the room is lovingly dedicated after sadly passing away in August 2018.

Here in Australia, it is estimated 1 in 100 people have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, a number that is steadily increasing.  Many shopping centres and some resorts are now installing ‘sensory rooms’ to cater for an ever-growing need, however, installing a sensory room requires much more effort than finding a spare room and simply throwing in a bean bag, blanket and disco light.

BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort owner, Greg McKinnon, said, “Our sensory room has been carefully designed in close consultation with the wonderful Gail Watts, an occupational therapist, a specialist autism teacher and ASD parents. As a three generational family owned and operated resort, we believe every family deserves a great holiday and we are so pleased to provide our guests with a fully facilitated sensory room. The room has all the features you would expect to find in an autism specific educational setting and we also provide guests who are planning to use the room with a special Welcome Book, allowing the family to explain what their child can expect on their holiday.”

Features in ‘The Reilly Room’ include a large free-standing hammock which can be used to rock a toddler or for a full-sized adult to rock themselves and is large enough to wrap around a child like a safe cocoon or ‘hidey hole’. There is also a large crash mat and weighted blankets/cushions for those particular children who are soothed by pressure. A lamp projects lovely blue ocean waves on the ceiling and a music player provides calming music to soothe the rawest of nerves. There is a collection of cushions providing a variety of tactile experiences, such as vibrating, fluffy and sequinned cushions. There is a ‘Bilbo’ to rock or spin a child in, a peanut-shaped gym ball to bounce on and a large timer clock to help them ‘finish’. The room also has a sensory toy box full of motivating toys to fascinate and calm children. Other activities include kinetic sand, play dough, colouring and drawing.

With her in depth knowledge and experience, Gail explained, “Children with autism can become very unsettled on holidays, away from the safety and comfort of their own home and belongings. Sometimes they travel for long hours in the car, through unfamiliar surroundings, unable move about and calm themselves. Parents work harder than ever just to keep them calm, to ensure the rest of the family enjoy themselves. Meltdowns on holiday can be a nightmare. Parents feel worried they are disturbing other guests and feel embarrassed or annoyed by friends and family offering parental advice about their child’s behaviour. Not only is it draining on the parents, it’s exhausting and upsetting for the child. It’s no wonder many parents of children with autism opt to stay home.”

‘The Reilly Room’ is accessible with a key and guests may keep the key for the duration of their stay so they can use the room when needed.  The facility is set up for use by one family at a time for the comfort and benefit of the user. An ‘occupied’ sign highlights when the room is being used so whoever is ‘settling’ will not be interrupted.

BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort is the only BIG4 Holiday Park in Queensland and the fourth to launch in Australia, the others being BIG4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park, which was the pioneer of the program, as well as BIG4 Ballarat Goldfields Holiday Park and BIG4 West Beach Parks Adelaide. All have worked with project founder, Gail Watts, in creating a dedicated sensory room, with expectations that the number of parks will grow over time.

This room, coupled with all the other features guests have come to expect from this multi award-winning, top rated holiday park, makes BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort the destination of choice for all families to enjoy the restful holiday they deserve.