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Background & Efforts
As of January 8th, 2019, Aquatica Orlando, one of the best water parks in Florida, was able to achieve a status that no other place in the world has. It is now officially the only water park in the world to have received accreditation as a ‘Certified Autism Center’ from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
Only after an extensive review of the park’s property, staff, and guest experience was Aquatica Orlando able to receive the IBCCES stamp of approval. Now, as Vice President of Aquatica Orlando David Heaton has said, all families, including those with children with autism, can have a “safe and meaningful experience.”
Families are assured that Aquatica’s staff has participated in mandatory training on autism awareness, communication, sensitivity, and motor abilities. Staff members have also had to pass an exam after their training to ensure they are equipped to assist children with special needs.
Aquatica Orlando’s website also now has resources to help families to pre-plan their visit to the park. These resources are primarily geared towards any individuals who experience sensory-processing difficulties. The guides help walk visitors through the experiences of the various attractions and how they may potentially impact someone.
Another example of Aquatica’s impressive efforts is their installation of “low sensory areas”. Here, guests can visit “quiet rooms” outfitted with adjustable lighting and comfortable seats for anyone needing to take a break. These areas can be found near Loggerhead Land and Kata’s Kookaburra Cove.
How Aquatica Orlando Received Autism Certification
Aquatica Orlando took numerous steps to achieve their status as a Certified Autism Center, but they were also following a set of guidelines implemented by IBCCES. These requirements guarantee that businesses receiving a CAC moniker have passed basic standards.
All CACs must be “dedicated to serving individuals with autism”, have “at least 80% of staff trained and certified in the field of autism”, “maintain compliance with National Healthcare/Education Accreditation standards” in addition to “HIPAA and ADA requirements”, and finally, must be “committed to ongoing training in autism”.
Other Autism-Certified Spots in the US
The IBCCES board chairman Myron Pincomb stated, “with the rise in diagnosis rates of cognitive disorders, there is a huge need for these options and for organizations to make a long-lasting commitment to their guests.” Pincomb is not alone in his views, as there has been a huge push for inclusiveness in places like theme parks.
Pennsylvania theme park, Sesame Place, (a top place for a vacation with a toddler) modeled the ever-popular children’s show Sesame Street and led the charge towards a comprehensive understanding of how to make an amusement park autism-friendly. They officially became a Certified Autism Center in 2018.
Aquatica and Sesame Place are not the only entertainment places in the country that can accommodate guests on the autism spectrum. The NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston is IBCCES certified and is a great place to see rockets and other pieces of space memorabilia. Other popular Certified Autism Centers include the St Augustine Pirate Museum, Miami Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, and Santa Barbara Museum.
IBCCES are strong believers that by becoming a CAC a business is not only serving the community but also gaining a competitive business advantage. By better serving individuals with autism, places like Aquatica are also more likely to attract partnerships and experience growth, as they become leaders in a booming market.
The Future for CACs
As Pincomb mentioned, the diagnosis rates of autism are increasing. So much so that it’s the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world, currently experiencing a 600% increase. As more and more families experience life with autism, the more important it will be for there to be fun, safe spaces for them to go on vacation or a day of entertainment. Hopefully, the measures taken by Aquatica Orlando continue the trend of inclusiveness and others follow suit.