Joining a long line of businesses that host special sensory-friendly events, many theme parks have begun offering accommodations for children with autism. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders are well aware of the dilemma. Kids with ASD often become greatly attached to the characters from their favorite shows and films and, like other children, want stuffed animals, lunchboxes, backpacks, and other school supplies that feature Spiderman or Mickey Mouse. And, just like other children their age, kids on the spectrum would love to go see their favorite characters in person, enjoying a day at a theme park.
Unfortunately, theme parks are filled with sensory inputs that can lead to overload and meltdowns—screeching roller coasters, long lines, heat, the squeals of other people on the rides. It can all add up quickly and cause a fun outing to turn into a challenge. Several theme parks around the country are trying to make it easier and more accessible for people on the autism spectrum, and their families, to get away from all of the sensory stimulation and decompress.
Parks That Make Accommodations for Kids With Autism
Recently, Legoland has introduced a few quiet rooms where park goers with autism spectrum disorders can take a break from sensory stimulation. The rooms include a number of comfort items and self-coping methods, such as weighted blankets, fidget toys and stress balls, noise-cancelling headphones and, of course, Lego blocks. Legoland also provides simple, illustrated guides that function like social stories or visual schedules, walking visitors with autism through the park experience and helping them prepare for the loud noises, bright lights or scary moments they might encounter on the rides. Finally, the park gives visitors with autism a complimentary Blue Hero Pass that lets families avoid long lines at popular attractions.
Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN
Dollywood, the legendary family-friendly park tucked into the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, set aside a dedicated calming room. Park visitors can use the room to destress by playing with gently glowing fiber optic strands, resting inside a dark, indoor teepee or taking a quick nap on oversized beanbags. The room also has a weighted blanket and other items meant to help visitors avoid sensory overload. The park also has a Ride Accessibility Center and encourages guests who have special needs to visit the Center before going into the park to get a special Boarding Pass and to go over the rides and entertainment available in the park.
Disney World & Disney Land
All Disney locations have clearly designated break areas throughout their parks—designed for families with small children and for special needs visitors. The break areas are located at the first aid stations as well as other locations. Disney also provides Disability Access Service for park visitors who are unable to wait in line or handle large crowds.
Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, MA
Edaville is a fun, family-friendly theme park that features a walk-through Dino Land as well as Thomas Land, an 11.5 acre section of the park where visitors can see their favorite characters from Thomas & Friends™ come to life. Edaville has many accommodations for children with ASD, including a dedicated quiet room with a weighted blanket, books and puzzles as well as a specially designed, sensory-friendly bathroom with manual flush controls and no automatic hand dryers. The park even provides fidget toys that children can play with while waiting in line and a quiet car on the Thomas Train that circles the park to make the ride more enjoyable for children with sensory processing difficulties.
Sesame Place Theme Park in Philidelphia, PA
Sesame Place theme park, which is based on the classic children’s television program, recently became the first amusement park to be qualified as a “Certified Autism Center.” That means at least 80 percent of employees specially trained to accommodate children with special needs. Families will have access to quiet rooms, low sensory areas and noise cancelling headphones. Guides will be available to provide information about the best activities based on an individual’s needs. And, while character interactions will be limited, Julia is at the park and available to say “hello” and take photos with your children.
If your child has frequent meltdowns or other behavioral issues associated with ASD and you would like to speak to a professional for guidance, give us a call at 864-834-8013 for a private consultation.