The waterpark industry has been striving to better accommodate guests diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Properties usually offer front-of-the-line passes or dedicate certain days exclusively to people with physical and cognitive disorders.
These efforts have been well received, but waterparks could still be falling short of providing the best possible service for this demographic.
“Right now it’s pretty popular to say that you’re autism-friendly, and that might mean you offer a special sensory night or discounts, but there hasn’t been a standardized process,” said Meredith Tekin, president of the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
Now there is.
The IBCCES works with educators and licensed healthcare professionals on autism training. It recently created a program that instructs hotel, resort, amusement park and waterpark operators on providing services for individuals with special needs. It is backed by clinical research, and the content is developed with the help of people on the spectrum.
“Some organizations are now pursuing the certification because they realize they need to do more,” Tekin said.
Aquatica Orlando — Sea World’s waterpark — is the first waterpark to become a Certified Autism Center under the program.
The process involved training Aquatica’s frontline staff in autism awareness and communication, ensuring they have the expertise, temperament and skills to interact with people on the spectrum and their families.
An audit of the property was also conducted, resulting in the addition of a quiet room. If a guest becomes overwhelmed, this is a designated place with adjustable lighting and comfortable seating where he or she can get relief from sensory stimulation.
Plus, IBCCES and Aquatica developed a comprehensive sensory guide that rates each attraction’s impact on the five senses on a scale of 1 to 10. The rating system can help a guest determine if a ride could be too intense. For example, Ray Rush, a family raft ride, is rated 7 for sight due to the bright colors, changing scenery and enclosed spaces. Touch, sound, smell and taste are rated 5, 2, 1 and 1, respectively. Likewise, the interactive features on Walkabout Waters, a 60-foot play structure, earned a high-stimulation rating of 7 for touch.
The sensory guide is available online as a planning resource. Signage throughout the park has been updated to include the sensory rating, as well.
Aquatica is the second property within the SeaWorld portfolio to earn the designation. Its sister park Sesame Place became the first CAC theme park last April.
The certification will require employees to undergo training once every two years.
“We really feel this has been a worthwhile investment and we’re already receiving a lot of positive feedback from our guests,” said David Heaton, vice president of Aquatica Orlando.