Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sesame Place opens as a Certified Autism Center: 5 things to know

Forecast for the opening day of Sesame Place this Sunday: Sunny day, clouds swept away...and autism friendly. Earlier this month, it became the first theme park in the world to be designated as a Certified Autism Center. What does that mean, exactly? Here, five things to know:

1. There's staff training involved. 
The vast majority of the 1600 employees at the park, located in Langhorne, PA, went through specialized training. "The training focuses on areas of sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor and social skills, program development and emotional awareness," says Cathy Valeriano, Sesame Place park president. "It consisted of several hours of online videos, robust reading materials and a comprehension test." Staffers will be required to undergo training every two years for the park to maintain the certification.

2. Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Elmo and their pals got trained, too.
"There are a few places in the park where the characters know not to interact with guests," says Valeriano. As for the park's parade, she continues, "We suggest that guests stand near the beginning of the parade route if they do not wish to have any character interaction."

3. Pre-planning for sensory needs just got easier.
A Sensory Guide developed by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (the same people who do the Certified Autism Center credentialing) is now available, download-able from this page. It's a comprehensive guide, 43 pages long, that details how a child with sensory processing issues may be affected by each attraction, along with the shows, parade and character dining. It gives each sense—touch, taste, sound, smell and sight—a rating of one to 10, with 1 being low sensory stimulation and 10 being high. There's also a Special Access Program, which allows visitors with disabilities to enter attractions through designated entries; an Accessibility Guide with an overview of attractions, services and facilities; and noise-cancelling headphones available free at The Welcome Center and Family Care Center. 

4. There are quiet rooms. Squee!
Theme parks are not known for being oases of calm. Max had many a meltdown as a little guy when we took him to various ones. Sesame Place is know offering two quiet rooms, located by Big Bird's Rambling River. They have adjustable lighting, and a comfy seating area.

5. Sesame Street has other autism cred, too.
"Sesame Place's certification aligns with Sesame Workshop's mission to increase awareness and understanding of autism," says Valeriano. Back in 2015, the Workshop debuted the nationwide initiative Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children. In 2016, it released 12 videos featuring kids with autism. Last year brought us Julia, the first muppet with autism—and she happens to be available for photo opps at Sesame Place.

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