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Ground-breaking sensory room at BIG4 Renmark enhances holidays for those with autism

BIG4 Renmark Riverfront in SA has ventured where no other Australian holiday park has gone before – creating a sensory room specifically dedicated to guests on the autism spectrum.

In this special feature, the park owners detail the inspiration for creating such an innovative facility and the heart-warming impact it has had on families since opening in late 2018.

Family favourite: BIG4 Renmark occupies an enviable riverfront location.

Perched on the shores of the famous Murray River lies a holiday park that has been attracting guests for generations, particularly families.

BIG4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park is a multi-award-winning leisure accommodation option for good reason: Premium riverside location, excellent accommodation, and a wealth of first-rate, family-friendly facilities.

And since mid-October, BIG4 Renmark has again raised the bar with the introduction of a sensory room. Named Reilly’s Room, this pioneering feature has the capacity to revolutionise the holiday experience for guests with autism, and their families.

Here, parks owners from the Watts family – one of the original founding names of BIG4 – explain the immense importance of such a facility.

Reilly’s Room has the capacity to be a game-changer for families who have children with autism.

Where did the idea for a sensory room for autistic travel originate?

Our passion for accessible tourism comes from first-hand experience having had a family member on the autism spectrum.

Our vision was to turn BIG4 Renmark into Australia’s ultimate inclusive tourism experience. The sensory room was an idea given to us by one of our family members who works with children on the autism spectrum within an educational setting.

Initially, we were unsure if such a room would be practical in our environment or even be used. But after brainstorming and thorough research, we thought if it was successful it would be a huge benefit and asset for our guests.

BIG4 Renmark's owners have a vision to transform the park into the ultimate inclusive tourism experience.

What was involved in setting up this room?

Installing a sensory room requires much more effort than finding spare space and simply throwing in a bean bag, blanket, and disco light.

Reilly’s Room was carefully designed in close consultation with an occupational therapist, a specialist autism teacher, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) parents.

Reilly’s Room has been carefully and expertly planned.

And how long did that process take?

Over the last two years, we have focused on improving our inclusive tourism product. Our research and development of Reilly’s Room took approximately three months.

We didn’t want the room to be token. We wanted it to help make holidays more accessible to those who thought that it was too hard to go away.

And for those who already did do the hard slog on holidays, we wanted to help relieve some of the pressure and make it a more pleasurable break for them.

Attention to detail is paramount within this space.

What are some of the key features of the room?

Reilly’s Room includes:

  • Freestanding hammock used to rock toddlers, with or without their carer, which is large enough to wrap around a child like a safe cocoon or ‘hidey hole’.
  • Crash mat and weighted blankets/cushions for children who are soothed by pressure.
  • A lamp that projects blue ocean waves on the ceiling while it plays calming music.
  • Cushions that provide a variety of tactile experiences: vibrating, fluffy, and sequinned.
  • A ‘Bilbo’ to rock for spinning.Peanut-shaped gym ball to bounce.
  • Activity boxes, including kinetic sand, playdough, sensory toy box, and colouring supplies.

Reilly’s Room is packed with variable features.

What is the importance of a facility like this to parents with kids who have autism?

In Australia, it is estimated that one in 100 people have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. Children who have autism can be so unsettled on holidays, away from their home where they feel safe and have their own things.

They often travel for long hours, through unfamiliar surroundings, unable to move about and calm themselves. Parents work harder than ever just to keep them calm, in order for the rest of the family to 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 is exhausting and upsetting for the child. Not much of a holiday, is it? It is no wonder many parents of children with autism opt to stay home.

It's not always a smooth ride for parents travelling with children.

Is the room available to all park guests?

Reilly’s Room is for use by persons on the spectrum and is accessible by a key available at reception. Guests 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’ or ‘room in use’ sign highlights when the room is being used so whoever is ‘settling’ will not be interrupted.

Is the sensory room a first for a holiday park?

This is not only a first for a holiday park in Australia, but as far as we are aware BIG4 Renmark is the country’s first accommodation provider to have a facility like this.

It's believed the sensory room at BIG4 Renmark is a first in the accommodation sector.

Since it opened, how has the space been received by guests, including would-be guests?

We have been amazed and cannot believe the response to Reilly’s Room. The feedback has been wonderful; almost overwhelming. Our guests and the general public are so thankful for its inclusion.

We have had parents in tears, thankful that their holiday will be a much better one with this space. Parents have told us that they would have never even considered going on a holiday, but now this gives them hope that they can.

Here are just two examples of direct feedback we have received:

“I’m in NSW so it would take some planning to visit, but just wanted to say thank you and show appreciation of how inclusive your park is in having a sensory room.

My son is on the autism spectrum, and it’s so hard to travel with him. I do hope to see more facilities like this in more holiday places. Thank you, it is so thoughtful and kind.”

Feedback for the park has been overwhelming.

“I have just read about your sensory room for autistic children. You have reduced me to tears. That is fantastic, well done. If only more places did this, it would make my daughter’s life just that little bit better having two boys, one with autism.

Holidays, shopping, visiting, outings of any sort can be a nightmare, so you just don’t go unless you have someone who understands. Well done, and a visit will be on the cards very soon to see how he copes. Thank you."

Powerful community response: "You have reduced me to tears."

Finally, BIG4 Renmark is known for being a hit with families. Could you detail just what is available for kids?

Where do we start! As mentioned, we have worked hard to make the park an inclusive tourism experience and have many family-friendly holiday park facilities.

The main features are:

  • Water play park
  • Resort pool and spa
  • Giant jumping cushion
  • Pump track (bike track)
  • Games room
  • TV room
  • BIG screen movie room
  • Indoor tiny tots playland
  • Playgrounds
  • Tennis court
  • Giant chess

We also have paddleboards, pedal bikes, water bees, canoes, tandem bikes, BMXs, and scooters for hire. And for parents (and other guests, of course) there is a gym and yoga studio.

BIG4 Renmark is flowing with family-friendly features.

Isn’t it time you enjoyed a getaway? Book your next BIG4 break now.

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