Water parks are filled with splashing, screaming, and fast rides—all potential triggers for autistic guests prone to sensory overload. This problem is baked into the design of most water parks, but as the Orlando Sentinel reports, SeaWorld's Aquatica Orlando park in Florida is taking steps toward being more inclusive of guests across the autism spectrum. It is officially the first park of its kind to be designated a Certified Autism Center (CAC) by the International Board of Credentialling and Continuing Education Standards.
After arriving at the park, groups can plan their day using an autism-friendly guide that rates how much each ride stimulates the five senses. A water slide with lots of hills and turns ranks high on the touch scale, for example, and a colorful playground area ranks high on the sight scale.
If guests ever decide they need a break from the excitement of the day, they can retreat to a quiet zone with dimmable lights and comfortable seats. Aquatica staff members have also been trained to serve the needs of park guests with autism.
Families may be hesitant to take kids with autism to loud, overstimulating places like pools and water parks, but giving them those experiences early in life can be valuable. Between 2009 and 2011 in the U.S., accidental drowning was the cause of 90 percent of deaths for children with autism spectrum disorder under age 14. Gary Weitzen, executive director of POAC Autism Services, told Aquatics International in 2016 that "Getting them exposed to water, teaching them to swim, and showing them the proper way to act in a pool literally can be lifesaving for these children."
Aquatica Orlando is just the latest family attraction to receive the CAC stamp of approval. In April of last year, Sesame Place in Pennsylvania reopened for the season as the first-ever theme park to double as a Certified Autism Center.
[h/t Orlando Sentinel]