In 2014, 1 in 50 Maryland children were identified with autism spectrum disorder according to the Maryland Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Program.(1) With the 2nd highest rate of autism in the country (2), many Maryland families are looking to the rise in sensory-friendly theme parks for potential vacation options this summer. Planning a trip for a child with ASD often requires careful thought on the part of the parents, so as to not make what is meant to be a relaxing time turn into stress or anxiety for the child and the family. All families deserve the memories and fun that comes with childhood vacations, and a well-planned break can do wonders for everyone.
Many of these 10 theme parks have received the designation of Certified Autism Center. This means that they have made their parks comfortable for children with ASD and their staff has undergone proper training on the wide range of sensory, social-emotional, and motor needs that children with autism spectrum disorder often face.(3) Others offer special passes and accommodations to meet the needs of families with children who have unique sensory and social needs.
Last year, Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania was the first theme park in the world to be named a Certified Autism Center.(3) The staff at sesame place receive specialized training and the park itself provides a variety of sensory-friendly accomodations. Sesame Place has two private quiet rooms for guests to use if the park becomes too overwhelming, as well as a low-sensory area of the park for families seeking a quieter experience.
When it comes to the rides and attractions, Sesame Place offers a guide to the different rides, as well as a Ride Accessibility Program that pairs riders with attractions that suit them. Guests who use the Ride Accessibility Program can receive priority boarding for many of the park’s rides. Guests can also borrow noise-cancelling headphones for a calmer experience and meet Julia, a Sesame Street character with ASD.
Recently named a Certified Autism Center, at least 80 percent of the staff at Minnesota’s Mall of America and its theme park, Nickelodeon Universe, were required to attend sensitivity training regarding ASD.(4) At Nickelodeon Universe, guests can read through a sensory guide ranking the various rides from high to low sensory stimulation, allowing parents to more easily plan a vacation that meets their child’s needs.
Aquatica Orlando is the first water park in the world to become a Certified Autism Center.(5) The theme park provides guests with quiet rooms, low sensory areas, certified staff, and a Ride Accessibility Program.
Disneyland and Disneyworld offer quiet areas for children who need a break from overstimulation while in the parks. They also offer a guide for guests with cognitive disabilities that may prove useful to families with ASD, as the guide details the sensory experiences associated with each ride. Disneyland and Disney World offer cards known as Disability Access Service Cards that allow guests who are unable to stand in line to receive return times for attractions.
LEGOLAND’s various parks have been working toward become more ASD-friendly these past few years. LEGOLAND Florida, for instance, offers passes for guests unable to wait in line (called Hero Passes) and the park has also previously released social stories to help prepare children for their experience at LEGOLAND. The LEGOLAND Beach Retreat in Florida suggests quiet areas for families to have a less overwhelming experience. Rumor has it that LEGOLAND has set-up quiet rooms for families, as well, but that information isn’t easily found on their website.
Dollywood, in Tennessee, offers a walkthrough guide to prepare children with ASD for their experience at Dollywood. The park also offers calming rooms that have helpful items like weighted blankets and an inviting teepee for children who need a break from the sensory experiences.
Located in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, Kennywood is a Certified Autism Center. Kennywood provides sensory bags and noise-cancelling headphones upon request, and has a designated quiet center within the park. Kennywood is staffed with trained staff and has a sensory guide to the park available to guests.
Along with Aquatica Orlando, Seaworld Orlando and Discovery Cove are now Certified Autism Centers. Families can use the park’s private quiet rooms, visit its designated low sensory area, review a sensory guide for the park, and interact with trained staff members. There is also a Ride Accessibility Program.
Morgan’s Wonderland is a theme park especially designed with all ages and abilities in mind. Located in San Antonio, Texas, Morgan’s Wonderland provides free admission for children with autism spectrum disorder and sensory integration disorders, among other conditions. The park was actually built by the father of a child (Morgan) who has ASD.(6)
Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, Massachusetts has several accomodations for children with ASD, including a sensory-friendly restroom within Thomas Land and a quiet room with a weighted blanket, as well as books and puzzles. Guest Services will also provide fidget toys to children who find it difficult to stand in line. Edaville regularly holds sensory-friendly events.
Staying Close to Home?
Maryland’s most popular attractions are also becoming more accessible to children with ASD. Pathfinders for Autism posts an event calendar online detailing sensory-friendly days and events throughout the state. The Walters Art Museum, for instance, has “sensory mornings” for children with ASD. The Maryland Science Center has also held events in the past.(7)
Neurobehavioral Associates provides comprehensive assessments to individuals with neurobehavioral differences. Our staff can attend IEP meetings and help you advocate for your child as well as provide referral options that can assist you. Contact us today to learn more about Neurobehavioral Associates and to set up your comprehensive assessment.
- A Snapshot of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Maryland | Autism | NCBDDD | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm-community-report/maryland.html
- MD Has 2nd Highest Autism Rates In America, CDC Says. (2018, April 30). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2018/04/30/md-has-2nd-highest-autism-rates-in-america-cdc-says/
- Katz, B. (2018, April 05). Sesame Place Becomes First Theme Park to Be Designated a Certified Autism Center. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-sesame-place-improving-accessibility-kids-autism-180968679/
- Crosby, J. (2019, April 05). Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe certified as ‘autism-friendly’. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from http://www.startribune.com/mall-of-america-s-nickelodeon-universe-certified-as-autism-friendly/508165212/
- First Water Park in the World becomes a Certified Autism Center: Orlando. (2019, March 20). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://ibcces.org/blog/2019/01/08/aquatica-orlando-becomes-the-first-water-park-in-the-world-to-be-a-certified-autism-center/
- Father Builds a $35 Million Theme Park for Daughter With Special Needs. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://people.com/human-interest/father-builds-a-35-million-theme-park-for-daughter-with-special-needs/
- McDaniels, A. K. (2015, October 19). More activities emerge for kids with developmental disabilities. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-autism-movies-20151019-story.html