Life
Teen Inspires Hotel To Make Living Easier For Residents With Autism
Alexander Behura recognized that there were always certain difficulties that emerged when they traveled with his brother with autism - so he decided to do something about it.
Kristi Shinfuku
08.29.17

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OC Register
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OC Register
[/caption]Traveling under regular conditions with a full family can be tough, but when a family member is autistic, there often happens to be an extra layer of precautions that need to be taken to ensure that everyone has a great time.

For the Behura family, this meant taking on a lot to make sure their autistic son Maximillian was well equipped even when away from home and bringing various things like special utensils, his medication, an iPad/tablet, toys, and a special stroller. Despite all of these extra items they need to bring with them being a little bit of a hassle, they’ve refused to let this stop them from making memories together and going on vacations.

Alexander Behura, 17, had seen and helped with a lot of the hard work that was necessary for planning their vacations, and on a particular trip they had together as a family in Palo Alto, they ran into a problem- Max ran out of diapers, and the family didn’t know where they could get some.

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OC Register
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OC Register
[/caption]This struck a brilliant idea with the extraordinary kid- there has to be an easier way for families like his to travel. What if the hotels could accommodate better for children like Max?

He quickly began to write letters with an extensive business plan to various corporations, upon the suggestion of his parents.

“You could tell, it’s something he was already thinking about it,” said Alexander’s dad, Nathaniel, said about the campaign that ensues. “We encouraged him to write letters.

His plan didn’t work at first. A congressman turned him down, and another organization said the cause was too bold. He decided to restructure his letter to be simpler, and hone in on places close to Disneyland in Anaheim instead, a place popular for kids with disabilities.

Ian Gee, general manager of the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim received one such letter, and was inspired to make a change at his hotel.

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OC Register
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OC Register
[/caption]“It’s so rare to receive a personalized letter, something that you can hold, as opposed to something you just read on a screen,” Ian later recalled to the OC Times. “There was a lot of detail and passion in the letter. He presented his family and the challenges his family faces and how they overcame them. But what I liked about it was it wasn’t a complaint; he offered suggestions.”

Gee invited Alexander and his family to the hotel and make a presentation for his proposed business plan. The meeting went swimmingly and over the next six months, they decided to put a plan in action.

The hotel then spent about $8,000 to begin accommodating for autistic children. They brought a behavioral therapist in to train the staff, and they brought on various dietary options that better accommodate the health needs of autistic children, as well as special utensils as well. They also have extra over-sized stroller rentals and a sitting service for parents that want a break as well.

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OC Register
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OC Register
[/caption]Drew A. Nguyen, CEO of Behaviour Functions who was brought on to help train the staff, believes that nearly 3.5 million Americans live with someone that is on the Autism spectrum, but there has never been a program like this before.

“These families face so many barriers, either staff not understanding autism or (viewing it as) a stigma. Some don’t go out at all,” Nguyen said of the families. “This is really a big project, and we are hoping this program can allow many of these families to go out into the community and be in a comfortable area and enjoy life and make memories.”

“These families face so many barriers, either staff not understanding autism or (viewing it as) a stigma. Some don’t go out at all,” Nguyen said about the way people with autistic family members interact with the idea of vacations. “This is really a big project, and we are hoping this program can allow many of these families to go out into the community and be in a comfortable area and enjoy life and make memories.”

The program, dubbed the Max Program (after ts longer name, Member of Autism Care Services), is being considered by Sheraton’s parent company, Marriott, to see if this could be a nationwide program.

Alexander’s incredible work ethic and dedication to helping his family is truly beautiful. With so many people that need help, we can’t help but hope that more hotels implement plans to help all the different families out there enjoy their vacation time.

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By Kristi Shinfuku
hi@sbly.com
Kristi Shinfuku is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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