Publish date: March 2021
BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort in Airlie Beach has been a long-time favourite with families, delivering amazing attractions and activities among inviting tropical garden surrounds.
And now the perennial award winner has heightened its vast appeal thanks to the opening of a sensory room in late February, which is dedicated to children on the autism spectrum and their families.
This is the fourth BIG4 park to open a sensory room since BIG4 Renmark Riverfront’s pioneering efforts in October 2018 (more on those parks below).
In this Q&A, we spoke with BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday owner, Greg McKinnon, to gain an insight into the impact and importance of this facility.
We are always looking at ways to enhance our guests’ holiday experience. We had spoken with (park owners) the Watts family about their sensory room at BIG4 Renmark and how well it had been received by their guests. And this started the ball rolling…
It is estimated that one in 100 people have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum in Australia, and upon further investigation we realised that there were in fact very few resorts in Australia with a sensory room.
The realisation that we could add such an important feature to our resort and have such a positive impact for families really galvanised our team into action.
The team at BIG4 Renmark put us in contact with Gail Watts, the founder of The Reilly Room Project. Gail is a special needs (autism) teacher and ex-holiday park worker who was responsible for setting up Renmark’s sensory room.
More significantly, Gail is the proud mother of Reilly, who had Asperger’s Syndrome and sadly passed away in August 2018. Our sensory room is lovingly dedicated to Reilly.
Installing a sensory room is a massive project. It requires much more effort than finding a spare room and simply throwing in a bean bag, blanket, and disco light.
After chatting with Gail, we determined what space we needed for the room. Fortunately, we had the perfect spot – an open, undercover area surrounded by tropical gardens and close to reception, which we had built into a room.
Gail and her team of volunteers at the Reilly Room Project were amazing. They are not only extremely passionate but have the expertise to ensure the room was designed to suit, and they also provided appropriate training for our staff. And so the Reilly Room began.
Gosh, it has just been the most amazing emotional experience!
We already knew about The Reilly Room Project beforehand, but when we met Gail and her team, we gained a fascinating first-hand insight into the practicalities of it all.
Such things like how the room and the sensory materials can make such a difference for a child and their families as well as the impact of a social script that can be sent prior to guests’ stay. And the team training has been invaluable.
We received so many heartfelt messages from guests past and present and from the wider community saying what a difference the room will make to them as families.
We have a fun, brightly coloured jelly fish lamp on the reception desk with a sign for guests to enquire should they be interested in learning more about the room.
Parents are required to read and sign the conditions for the room’s use prior to being given a key. The key is theirs for the duration of their stay, providing them with 24hr access. An occupied sign highlights when the room is in use, so whoever is in ‘settling’ is not disturbed.
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 big 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 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’s also 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’.
In addition, the room has a sensory toy box full of motivating toys to fascinate and calm children. Other activities include kinetic sand, play dough, and colouring and drawing.
Fantastic! It’s going to be a great addition to the resort, allowing all families the opportunity to holiday again.
After the year we all had in 2020 with lockdowns, border closures, and travel restrictions, everyone needs a holiday now more than ever.
If we can improve our guests’ experience and remove some of the challenges faced by a child on the spectrum as well as their families, then what an amazing result.
Being located in the magical Whitsundays, we are often compared to an island holiday resort – only on the mainland. We’re set on 10ha of landscaped tropical gardens and wide open spaces with so much to do. These are just some of the highlights:
See more of the resort here.