Sesame Place in Philadelphia has become the first theme park in the world to receive an autism accreditation. It earned that accreditation by having its staff trained in sensitivity towards visitors with autism.
The park has also added quiet rooms for children and a sensory guide for parents. The guide includes information about how the park’s rides and attractions might affect or overwhelm a child’s senses. Parents can use the guide to decide which attractions to visit and which ones to avoid.
Autism is more formally known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and it is a developmental disability that lasts the patient’s life. It affects social interaction, communication skills, and behavior. The condition ranges greatly in severity: Some children seem to be nearly normal and can learn to live independently, while others are severely disabled and will need to be cared for throughout their lives.
People with autism often have sensory processing issues, which means their brains have difficulty making sense of the stimuli being picked up by their senses. As a result, they are susceptible to sensory overload, and bright lights, lines of people, and loud noises can all cause that overload. If the overload is severe enough, the child can suffer a meltdown and lose control over their behavior. In many cases, a meltdown looks like a temper tantrum, but it’s caused by feeling overwhelmed by emotion or stimuli as opposed to frustration or anger.
Sesame Place earned its designation as a Certified Autism Center from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Centers (IBCCES), an organization that sets standards regarding the care and education of cognitive disorders or disorders that affect thought processes. Such conditions include autism, ADHD, and dementias like Alzheimer’s. IBCCEC also educates professionals who work with such individuals to make certain they know the latest research and methods.
Sesame Place’s upgrades aren’t Sesame Street’s first foray into autism. In 2017, the show added an autistic character named Julia to the cast.