On April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day and as part of World Autism Awareness Week, SeaWorld Orlando announced it has been designated as a Certified Autism Center by The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). SeaWorld Orlando joins Aquatica Orlando and Discovery Cove to become the first family of parks, in the world’s leading theme park destination, to be certified.
“We are incredibly proud to be the first family of Orlando theme parks to achieve these certifications,” said Mark Pauls, SeaWorld Orlando park president. “We want to create lasting memories for all our guests. As families start planning their summer travel, the resources and tools that our parks now offer can provide peace of mind for families with members that have autism and other special needs. Our parks and staff are now equipped to offer families inclusive activities, helping to ensure meaningful experiences for everyone.”
Earlier this year, Aquatica Orlando became the world’s first water park to be recognised as a certified autism centre and Discovery Cove in Orlando became the first all-inclusive day resort and animal interaction park in the US to be designated. These certifications followed sister park Sesame Place, the first theme park in the world to reach this accreditation in April 2018.
The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) worked with SeaWorld Orlando on the completion of a staff-wide autism sensitivity and awareness training as well as an onsite review of the park property and guest experience, officially designating SeaWorld Orlando as a Certified Autism Center (CAC).
“SeaWorld Orlando creates fun, educational experiences that are intended to be enjoyed by all. We think the training and the park-specific sensory guides provide useful information to ensure our guests are armed with all the information they need to prepare, be informed and enjoy their time at our parks,” continued Pauls.
As certified autism centers, the parks are required to provide ongoing training to ensure that team members have the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament and expertise to interact with all families and children with special needs, specifically on the autism spectrum. Training takes place in the areas of sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor and social skills, program development, and emotional awareness, as well as a comprehensive autism competency exam. The autism training must be taken every two years to maintain the certification.
In addition, robust pre-visit planning resources have been added to SeaWorld Orlando’s website, including a park specific sensory guide developed by IBCCES. This sensory guide makes it easier for parents to plan activities that satisfy their child’s specific needs and accommodations by providing insight on how a child with sensory processing issues may be affected by each sense during each attraction, including highlighting areas that are more soothing.
SeaWorld Orlando recently debuted Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando, a fully immersive and interactive six-acre land providing all the fun, laughter and learning of Sesame Street. The land features the iconic Sesame Street neighbourhood including Abby Cadabby’s Garden, Big Bird’s Nest, Mr. Hooper’s Store and the famous 123 Stoop, as well as everyone’s favourite Sesame Street friends and SeaWorld’s first daily parade.
One of SeaWorld Orlando’s designated quiet spaces can be found in Sesame Street, with adjustable lighting and a comfortable seating area for guests to take a break from the sensory overload often found in theme parks. Another quiet space is near the front of the park, and both can be easily found on the park map.
Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman, said: “IBCCES is excited to be on this journey with SeaWorld as we work in tandem to educate and train their staff. With 1 in 59 children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, it is nice to see SeaWorld’s long-term commitment to providing services that encourage inclusivity in the parks. This should be the industry standard, and we’re working with leaders in the field to make that happen. Thousands of hours of hard work and training have been completed by SeaWorld’s dedicated ambassadors, and they are opening doors for all individuals to engage in the different activities the parks have to offer. Having conducted an onsite review of the park property and guest experience, we have seen firsthand SeaWorld’s commitment and contributions to education and animal care and their enthusiasm for sharing those experiences with all guests.”
Kerry Magro is an IBCCES Board Member, an advocate for the autism community and is also on the autism spectrum. He said: "To see SeaWorld Orlando continue to want to make an impact and be a leader in the industry and in the autism community is wonderful. We need more groups like them.”