Aquatica Orlando just became the first water park to earn the title of certified autism center from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
The park, which is part of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, features a quiet room and low sensory area for guests. IBCCES, which also has certification programs involving disorders like anxiety and dyslexia, trained the majority of Aquatica employees who interact with guests to have a thorough understanding of autism.
“[The training] really gives them more sensitivity, more awareness, more understanding on what autism is and what guests might be experiencing,” IBCCES President Meredith Tekin told HuffPost.
The certified autism center designation means the park also has an IBCCES sensory guide that offers ratings for the park’s rides and attractions. The ratings cover touch, taste, sound, smell and sight, which are ranked from 1 (low sensory stimulation) to 10 (high sensory stimulation).
“The purpose [of the guide] is to not tell people what they can and can’t do,” Tekin said. “It’s to provide additional information, so families and individuals can be better prepared on what they might experience at the park.”
Aquatica Orlando also features a ride accessibility program guide online that breaks down descriptions of the rides along with height requirements and ride restrictions.
The water park’s designation comes after Sesame Place, a “Sesame Street”-themed park that is also part of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, became a certified autism center last year.
Although it is not certified by the IBCCES, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an extension of the Morgan’s Wonderland theme park in San Antonio, is another inclusive water park. It is wheelchair-accessible and features a water play area with water that can be warmed for guests with sensitivity to the cold.
Tekin said she hopes the autism center certification ― and the employee training and sensory guides that come with it ― will become more and more common with theme parks across the country.
“Our goal is to have it be an industry standard,” she said.