At TPG, we are convinced that travel should not only be accessible to everyone, but enjoyable for everyone. In honor of World Autism Awareness Day (held annually on April 2), we’re highlighting cities and tourist attractions around the world that are doing just that: making their destination welcoming to all visitors.
In regards to 1 in 36 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, more and more destinations join a growing list of places dedicated to meeting the needs of every visitor so that they feel welcome, cared for and, above all, can enjoy themselves.
To do this, these destinations join forces with International Standards Council for Certification and Continuing Education, an organization that focuses on autism and cognitive differences. In addition to healthcare and public safety training, IBCCES has developed a robust certification program for cities, zoos, restaurants, theme parks, hotels, museums and similar tourist destinations that are committed to serving people with autism.
Are you planning your next vacation? Here are seven autism-friendly destinations to consider.
The Beaches family of properties includes three all-inclusive resorts for families in Negril and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, which aim to accommodate all kinds of customers, including people with autism.
All of these resorts are designated Advanced Certified Autism Centers and staff members have received special training from IBCCES. Not to mention, each property offers kids’ camps, personalized dining options, sensory zones, and sensory guides that provide details on sensory stimulation levels for the various amenities and activities at those resorts, including those run by popular Sesame Street characters.
Beach resorts also offer one-on-one accredited staff members called “Beaches Buddies” who can assist your family during all or part of your trip and “expedited arrival and departure service”, both for additional charges.
Mesa, Arizonahas the distinction of being the very first city certified for autism in the United States. This designation means visitors can find attractions, hotels, restaurants, and more throughout the city.
THE the city website provides a directory of certified accommodations, restaurants and attractions. You can download a mobile passport that lists attractions and win a special prize if you check in at five certified autism centers during your visit.
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In December 2022, Visalia, Californiaachieved Autism Certified Destination designation after a year-long collaborative effort between the Visit Visalia tourist board and local hotels and tourist attractions.
Visalia retains a updated list of certified autism centers on its website, along with details on what is required for these hotels and attractions to achieve this classification, including employee training, accommodations and amenities such as sensory guides, quiet spaces and exclusive events at low sensitivity.
The city also participates in theSunflower Program for Hidden Disabilities‘, which offers visitors a free sunflower-print lanyard. This alerts staff at local hotels, restaurants and attractions that special accommodations may be required.
From the 2023 operating season, all Legoland Stations across the United States will open as Certified Autism Centers.
Employees at Legoland Florida at the Haven of Winter, Florida, Legoland California In San Diego And New York Legoland in Goshen, New York, are specially trained to ensure guests with autism or other sensory disabilities can enjoy the kid-friendly theme park. In the case of Legoland Florida, the three on-site hotels are also certified centers for autism.
Additionally, each Legoland location offers Quiet Rooms, Sensory Zones, and Sensory Guides for all attractions that rate each attraction’s sensory levels of touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell. Visitors can also request a skip-the-line pass called the Hero Pass for people with disabilities.
Peppa Pig Theme Park
Peppa Pig Theme Park – adjacent to Legoland Florida Resort – opened in February 2022 as an IBCCES Certified Autism Center.
In addition to staff training on sensory awareness and ongoing education on the needs of visitors on the autism spectrum, Peppa Pig Theme Park has a in-depth sensory guide on its website, sensory signage at each attraction and a skip-the-line pass for visitors with special needs. There are also areas designed for people with autism, like an indoor theater that shows episodes of “Peppa Pig” in a dark, quiet room with comfy floor cushions.
Sea World Orlando
SeaWorld Orlando was an IBCCES Certified Autism Center since World Autism Day in 2019. The theme park that combines thrilling, child-friendly rides with aquatic animal viewing and education – as well as its Aquatica Orlando water park and all-inclusive day resort Discovery Cove – offers Autism Awareness and Sensitivity training to all staff so that all visitors can enjoy the breadth of fun and educational experiences SeaWorld has to offer.
Sea World Orlando website provides information about the park’s skip-the-line rides accessibility program, as well as the park’s rest room and lower sensory area. You can also download a sensory guide with details about each SeaWorld Orlando attraction.
The DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld, one of The many family hotels in Orlandois also designated as a Certified Autism Center, making it a convenient option for families traveling with autistic children.
sesame placewhich has locations in philadelphia cream and San Diego, the only theme park where you can visit the likeable characters who call Sesame Street home, is also a certified center for autism.
In addition to necessary training and sensory guides, Sesame Place offers visitors the opportunity to meet Julia, a Sesame Street resident with autism. Julia has been an important character in the TV show “Sesame Street” since 2017.
Six Flags has more than 20 theme parks across the country. In 2020, Six Flags became the first family of parks to achieve Certified Autism Center designation at all locations.
The parks have partnered with IBCCES with the goal of removing the challenges of visiting a theme park with a child with special needs while making every guest feel welcome. Each park has its own sensory guide, personalized menu options at dining locations, sensory spaces, and warm, accommodating staff members.
At the end of the line
These seven cities, resorts and tourist attractions are doing everything they can to meet the needs of travelers with autism.
For a complete list of IBCCES certified sites, visit the organization’s website travel directory for autism.