Valley Oaks Golf Course has become the first golf course in California to be designated a Certified Autism Center™(CAC). This follows Visit Visalia who became the first California destination marketing organization to be designated a CAC. The CAC designation is awarded by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to organizations that complete position-specific training and certification to help staff better communicate and serve visitors with autism and sensory sensitivities.
“As the first golf course in California to become a Certified Autism Center™, we are excited to share our passion for the great game of golf with others previously unrepresented within our community. Golf can help build self-esteem and confidence in autistic children in a fun, welcoming and supportive environment,” said Aaron Hensley, general manager of Valley Oak Golf Course. “By completing the certification process, our staff is now better equipped to serve families and ready to share golf experiences with individuals with autism and other special needs.”
In the coming months, Valley Oaks Golf Course will have designated “quiet space” available for those in need and sensory backpacks available upon request that include noise-canceling headsets, fidget toys, and playdough. Additionally, Valley Oaks Golf Course will host seasonal ASD golf clinics where those on the spectrum can begin to learn and experience the game of golf in a welcoming and supportive group setting. Valley Oaks Golf Course is a participating partner of Visit Visalia’s “Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program” that allows guests to discreetly let golf course staff know they or someone in their party has a disability that might require a little extra help. Special accommodations may include expedited check-in/check-out, consideration for specific seating requests inside the restaurant, consideration for playing in a private group, and allowing outside food for individuals with special needs.
Autism diagnoses are on the rise each year with about 1 in 54 children identified as having ASD according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. 1 in 6 people have sensory needs and millions of adults are on the spectrum but undiagnosed. As a “game of one,” golf is ideal for individuals with autism who may have difficulty reading the social cues of those around them. The experiences kids have on a golf course allow them to reshape their inner conversations and perceptions by interacting with other people and the environment.
Valley Oaks Golf Course joins other organizations locally as part of a movement initiated by Visit Visalia to pursue the Certified Autism Destination designation through IBCCES which would mean that visitors would have options when looking for entertainment, recreation, and hotel choices in the area with trained staff that understand and can support the needs of their families.
“We want families touched by autism to travel to Visalia with confidence, knowing that our local businesses like hotels, restaurants and attractions like Valley Oaks Golf Course better understand their needs and can help ease the challenges families may face when traveling,” said Nellie Freeborn, executive director of Visit Visalia. “We congratulate Valley Oaks Golf Course for this achievement and for making this commitment to travelers with autism.”
Visit Visalia is working to provide travel information that makes vacation planning easier for our visitors with special needs. Travelers can learn more about accessible travel to Visalia on the Visit Visalia website [https://www.visitvisalia.com/accessible-travel] which includes information and a video series about accessibility in the nearby Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.