MESA (3TV/CBS 5) -- Families who have children on the autism spectrum may soon feel even more welcomed in Mesa.
Visit Mesa recently announced it’s the first destination marketing organization to become a “Certified Autism Center,” with the goal of attracting out-of-state families who have children living with autism to Mesa for their vacations.
That means employees have gone through a specialized autism education course through International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), which requires 80 percent of the staff to participate.
The training includes teaching employees how to recognize signs of autism, a sensory disorder that varies greatly on the spectrum.
"It's simply acknowledging and understanding what some of the symptoms of autism and sensory disorder are," explained Marc Garcia, the CEO of Visit Mesa.
The training varies from one hour for front-line customer service employees to 14 hours with the organization or company’s business leaders.
For Garcia, it’s personal.
He has a 5-year-old boy on the spectrum and has experienced the challenges of vacationing with him.
He sees potential in helping families like his.
"For us, it's a business decision," he said. "Yes, it's the right thing to do, but 1 in 59 children today will eventually be diagnosed with autism."
According to IBCCES, more than $262 billion is spent on autism-related services.
"We wanted to get out in front of it," added Garcia. "We wanted to be first. We wanted to be able to tell the world we are more than autism-friendly, we're autism-certified."
Hannah Gruver-Green has a son who is living with a severe case of autism. He’s nonverbal, but can make noises and can communicate with one-word answers like, "Yes," "No," or "Juice."
She wishes more businesses would consider getting involved in this type of training.
"A child with autism doesn't always look like they have a disability," she explained. "So I've experienced a good amount of, I don't say the word discrimination lightly, but in general I think some people think my child's a brat."
She said it's sometimes hard leaving the house for fear he would have a meltdown.
"When things change at a moment's notice, or plans suddenly go out the window, it's much harder for him to adjust than the average child," she explained.
So far, Garcia said 30 businesses, mostly hotels, have signed up for the training. He's looking for 30 more, hopefully museums and family attractions, to join the initiative.