Our families may not get to travel much, if at all. One of the many reasons is lack of truly accommodating vacation destinations, meaning ones with autism-specific sensory, space, and safety features. To address this gap, John Ordover and his wife Carol Greenburg* created an autism vacation oasis on Fire Island, New York, and are calling it Spectrum House.

The listing describes Spectrum House as “your perfect summer getaway designed with the utmost care and consideration for families with children on the spectrum, including privacy fencing and a sensory gym. This thoughtfully designed home offers a safe, inclusive, and relaxing environment so you can truly unwind and create lasting memories. Located just a block and a half from the ocean in one direction and mere steps from charming stores and delightful restaurants in the other, this spot lets you enjoy everything Fire Island has to offer.”

We talked with John about the Spectrum House project.

What inspired you to create Spectrum House?

When our autistic son was growing up, there was no safe place to take him on vacation.  Hotels would make a huge effort and I don’t fault them, they’d do everything on the often 20 item list we sent them, but there were things about hotels, like fire codes not allowing us to secure his room so he wouldn’t head off on his own, that we couldn’t overcome.  The last straw was when we took him to an incredibly helpful hotel, who did everything we asked but didn’t mention—and we didn’t think to ask—if there was an iron in the room.  We woke up to our son having plugged in the iron and very cheerfully ironing the carpet.

Simply put, while there were plenty of places laid out for those with a wide variety of physical disabilities of one kind or another, there was no place laid out for families traveling with an autistic child.  So once we found ourselves with the resources, we made such a place.

Photo of Spectrum House, which is wood sided, and one story but raised with an entry ramp. Two young trees are in the foreground.
Spectrum House

We have also noticed that most holiday destinations lack accommodations for autistic sensory, kinetic, and other traits. How specifically does Spectrum House make vacationing more accessible for our families?

Spectrum House is focused on what we feel are the three major needs of a traveling autistic family: To know their child cannot wander off on their own, to be in an environment that is as safe as we can possibly make it, and to have a way to calm their child, should it be necessary.  So we surrounded the deck with a six-foot-tall privacy fence, and put a punch code lock on the inside gate, so while the child in question could go out the house doors, those doors lead only to the deck, and the deck is locked.  We got rid of everything we felt could be dangerous, have a general “no glass” policy, and anything sharp is in a lock-box.  All dishes, cups, and eating utensils are plastic.  And finally, the back room of the house has been converted into a fully-equipped Sensory Gym with weighted blankets and other calmers, like a cuddle swing.

Photo of Spectrum House's sensory gym, with mats on the floor, rollers, and suspended flat swings and pouch swings.
Spectrum House’s sensory gym

Our autistic people can be loud. Is this something Spectrum House has accounted for? People in holiday spots are not always friendly about unexpected soundscapes.

Spectrum House is detached from the surrounding houses and is raised high above the street with ramps leading up to the living space. There is some street sound, but with Fire Island not permitting cars during vacation season, it’s far less than in most places.

On that topic, our families can also have competing access needs, meaning some members have difficulty being around others’ noises, etc. Is the house large enough to accommodate a need for separate spaces?

Spectrum House has four bedrooms and of course the Sensory Gym, so yes, plenty of places to isolate if necessary.

Another reason our families don’t get to travel has to do with finances. Do you have pricing accommodations for families who might not usually get to travel to such an excellent spot?

We have intentionally set the weekly rental price as low as we possibly can while sustaining the property.   We are working on connecting Spectrum House with all organizations that subsidize vacations for autistic children to defray some of the cost.  Plus since it sleeps eight easily, more than one family could work together to rent the place.

What does it mean that Spectrum House is “autism certified”? Who makes that determination?

We’ve been certified by RentABLE, which is an organization that makes connections between properties ready for disabled people and those who want a getaway, and by the Autism Travel Club.  In both cases I sent our layout and photos and answered a lot of questions much like yours! *laughs.* Anyone who wants to come take a look at the place themselves, or any organization that would  like a tour, just get in touch with me and I’ll set it up.

Is Spectrum House only for families with autistic children, or do you think it is also appropriate for those without children (autistic adults especially)?

I’ve seen independent autistic adults revel in the sensory room, laying on the mats, swinging gently on the platform swing, or just rolled up in a weighted blanket. There are also swinging egg chairs out on the deck that can be enjoyed by autistic people of any age.

What kind of feedback have you had from your neurodivergent guests so far?

Does my wife, who is autistic, count?  *laughs*.  She loves it!   At this point Spectrum House has been on the market for less than two weeks, word hasn’t travelled far yet, and so far we haven’t had any takers yet (we didn’t open until too late in the season for most summer renters).  But we’re eager to start serving the autistic community!  Our goal is to show that a house like this is a viable proposition, so the concept will be imitated all over the U.S. and the world.

Outside of Spectrum House, what does the area offer?

From my Realtor’s website:

Welcome to the glorious Village of Ocean Beach, the unofficial capital of the five-block-wide by 32-mile-long barrier beach of Fire Island, just south and parallel to Long Island. It’s perfect for all ages, both singles and families. Its unique character is in its varied restaurants, treasure-laden shops and home-spun galleries. Ocean Beach combines the allure of a resort with a casual atmosphere and the safety of a lost age.

We have it all—beautiful supervised ocean and bay beaches, lovely single family homes, restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, nightlife, movies, concerts, youth group, tennis, basketball, baseball, art shows, an international film festival, Memorial Day and July 4th parades and celebrations, dock concert performances, boutiques and shops, ferry and water taxi services, a seasonal and transient boat marina, medical and nursing services, a post office, little red wagons and bicycles. And in the summer, there are no cars!

Distance photo of homes on narrow Fire Island, New York, seen from above and at an angle.
Fire Island

If anyone has any questions about Spectrum House, how do they reach you?

Optimally through our real estate person, Tara Fishman, 631-614-5499 at Luxury Fire Island Homes. Tara also teaches theater to autistic kids and is a special needs co-ordinator.


*Disclosure: Carol Greenburg is TPGA’s co-editor.