MESA, Ariz. — The City of Mesa is now designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards as an Autism-friendly city.

Nearly 60 businesses and organizations in Mesa and the surrounding area completed autism certification training and are now each deemed a Certified Autism Center by IBCCES.

The innovative initiative is expected to raise the profile of the city and inject a new source of visitor dollars to the region.

The yearlong effort was launched by Visit Mesa CEO Marc Garcia after his own vacation experience with his 6-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum.

The training is geared towards executives, front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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“We were made to feel uncomfortable, uninvited, unwelcomed and not just from other guests like us but from supposed hospitality professions, people in my business, people who should know better. And so, I said, ‘This is wrong. I’m going to do something about this in my hometown in Mesa,’ and so that’s how we embarked on this journey,” said Garcia.

The effort was immediately embraced by other city factions including the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and numerous nonprofit organizations.

More than 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities employees and 1,200+ Mesa Police Department, public safety and law enforcement officers are fully committed to autism certification training.

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To date, nearly 4,000 community members have completed or committed to the autism certification.

The CDC says approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.