The Benson Visitor Center is now the county’s first and only certified Autism Center.
“It’s really nice to be on the cutting edge,” Tourism Supervisor Bob Nilson said.
He and two other staff members completed the online training earlier this year to earn the designation. Tourism Clerk, Kathy Lara, heard about the opportunity in 2019 at a conference, but the price tag was more than they could afford. In 2022 they were able to take advantage of the Arizona Office of Tourism coupon for only having to pay half the price.
They received their certification from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Educations Standards.
Lara has a son who is on the spectrum, which is where her passion for Autism awareness comes from. Her passion was what encouraged the team to pursue this training.
Weve been noticing a lot of children that are on the spectrum are train enthusiasts and since we have this great train simulation we just thought Hey why dont we expand our universe, Lara said.
The training taught the staff about signs to look for that a person is on the spectrum and what to do to help make them comfortable. Nilson said one of the things he learned was that sometimes people with Autism don’t like to make eye contact so there are different strategies for how to talk to that person without making them uncomfortable.
They say in the training is if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism,” Nilson said. “So its all different. When they come in you can look for certain signs.
Some of the adjustments that can be for sensory needs are not sounding the train horn from the train simulation and having the model train travel at a slow speed so it’s not too loud.
Benson resident Tiffany Wahl has a son who is on the spectrum and is happy to see a business taking steps to be inclusive.
I dont know that theres any place in Benson that we can go knowing that hes going to be safe and his needs are going to be met,” Wahl said. “It makes me feel accepted not only for moms (but also for) families that have kids on the spectrum and my son.