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Sunny days! What to expect at first-ever certified 'autism center' theme park

'If you have autism or you are in a family with somebody who has autism, the park environment can be very scary and very intense.'
/ Source: TODAY

Children with autism now have a special amusement park where they can come and play.

Sesame Place, the theme park based around the classic children's "Sesame Street" TV series, has become the first-ever certified autism center. That means the Pennsylvania park offers special activities for children with special needs, along with services from staff members who have undergone extensive training on autism sensitivity and awareness.

“If you have autism or you are in a family with somebody who has autism, the park environment can be very scary and very intense. It’s probably the last place you want to go,” Sesame Park president Cathy Valeriano told TODAY.

As a certified autism center, more than 80 percent of the staff are required to complete specialized training in sensory awareness, environment communication, motor and social skills and other areas to help meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum, Valeriano said.

Sesame Place obtained its certification from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, which typically provides training in health care, educational fields, police academies and other industries that work frequently with people who have autism and other special needs.

“They developed this curriculum for us and it was pretty intense training that our team went through,” Valeriano said.

The park now offers resources such as a sensory guide to help parents plan activities for their children ahead of their visit. It also has two “quiet rooms” where kids with sensory processing disorders can find calm and comfort.

Valeriano said a goal of the park is for families to create positive, lasting memories together.

“This designation just really reinforces that commitment to our guests. In addition, it ties back to a really strong partnership that we have with Sesame Workshop … which is definitely a leader in autism awareness in the programming they developed,” she said.

Sesame Place's designation as an autism center comes about a year after “Sesame Street” introduced a new Muppet named, Julia, who has autism, in its series.

The character was first introduced in 2015 through an online storybook.

The park's designation announcement was coordinated to coincide with World Autism Day in April.

Sesame Place staff will be required to undergo training every two years to maintain its autism center certification. New hires will go through the training as part of their orientation.

Editor's note: This story was first published on April 9, 2018.

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