This week, Sligo’s Clayton Hotel became the first hotel in Ireland to establish a room specifically for guests living with autism and sensory issues. We spoke with Mary Clarke, the Kids’ Club leader at the hotel, to talk about the Sensory Room’s inception, its functions and her hopes for it as a model for similar initiatives in the future.

What prompted the Clayton in Sligo to set a Sensory Room up in the first place?
I had many reasons for setting up the Sensory Room, to be honest. I’d seen the benefits of a such a room firsthand when I was doing work experience in a school which had its own ASD unit. I saw how well the children reacted to the sensory room there and it was a far more enjoyable and relaxing space for them to spend time in. We run an excellent Kids Club for our guests but some of the children, who’d have additional needs, wouldn’t be the most comfortable in the Kids Club environment since it can be fairly busy at the best of times. Our new Sensory Room now offers what we hope will be a stress-free, calm, and stimulating space for children and adults with additional needs. When I brought the idea to our senior management, they were on board straightaway and the whole team got behind it.

Can you talk us through the launch day and tell us about how it went? 
We’d a fantastic day at the launch. There was a great turnout and we’d phenomenal support from local organisations and service providers. Most importantly, there were a number of children in attendance as well, who all enjoyed playing in the Sensory Room and their parents were delighted to see them use the room. We were thrilled ourselves to see the kids actively using the room and that’s what is most important to us.

Did you collaborate with any local charities in Sligo who work with the autistic community?
I received great support and advice from a number of organisations including Irish Society for Autism and Irish Autism Action.  I also spoke with groups like Down Syndrome Ireland who showed great support for what we were doing.  Overall the support has been phenomenal and we really appreciate it.

Is the sensory room exclusively intended for children or can adults with similar challenges also avail of it separately? 
The Sensory room is now open to all hotel guests and members of Club Vitae at the Clayton Hotel Sligo.  It’s suitable for both adults and children.

How are guests responding to the room so far?
It’s been a brilliant reaction so far, we’ve had a great response from families who have used the Sensory Room over the past week since its completion.

Are there any other facilities or activities for children on the autistic spectrum at your hotels? Things in the way of day clubs and so on? 
We’ve have a 20m swimming pool and separate Kids pool in our Leisure club, we do also run a Kids Club during School holidays.  In our Kids Club area we have a Play Room which is open for guests to use at their convenience.

Do you envisage additional rooms being facilitated in other Clayton hotels?
We really are thrilled to be the first hotel in Ireland with a Sensory Room and as it’s such an important facility, I’m sure that other hotels will create rooms like this and make them available to their guests.

Photo credits: Clayton Hotel Sligo