Six Flags says all 26 of its theme parks nationwide meet a new standard for working with people with autism.
The company's parks will receive the "Certified Autism Center" designation from The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
Emilye Schmale is a mother of a seven-year-old son with autism.
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She also owns Shine Behavioral in Arlington that specializes in autism therapies. She knows sensory sensitivity can prevent some parents from wanting to visit amusement parks with their child.
"As a parent with autism I'm very mindful of where we go and what we do," Schmale said.
Six Flags Entertainment Corporation is helping families work through those concerns.
Six Flags is putting in place special measures to earn the 'Certified Autism Center' designation.
"All of our guests deserve an opportunity to be able to come out and enjoy a day at the park in a manner which is comfortable for them," Manager of Communications for Six Flags Over Texas and Hurricane Harbor Sharon Parker said.
The certification will include a sensory guide for each ride so guests can judge their level of comfort with it. Also at least 80% of the front line staff with be specially trained to accommodate guests with cognitive disorders.
"Visually see cues that may show them there is a guest that is needing some special attention and allow us to be able to communicate with them in a manner that will be comfortable not only for the guest but the family in general," Parker said.
Schmale said this training will be very beneficial for families like her’s.
"The instinct is to kind of back off because they don't want to do the wrong thing,” Schmale said.
“And that training is going to change that. They are going to be able to step forward and interact with our kiddos and that's what our kiddos need. They want that interaction."
The parks will also provide special sensory places where guests can relax in a less stimulating environment.
All little things Schmale says is a big help.
"What Six Flags is doing by training their staff and having those quiet spaces, it really allows our kiddos to just be kids and that's what they want."
As a Certified Autism Center, Six Flags parks will provide:
- Trained, courteous, front-line team members with the ability to identify visual cues to better accommodate guests with cognitive disorders and help them enjoy their time in the parks;
- A sensory guide for each ride and attraction so guests can make informed decisions about the ride experience and their level of comfort;
- Special in-park sensory spaces, where guests with sensory needs can relax in a less stimulating environment;
- Expanded culinary options to meet guests’ dietary needs (such as gluten-free items); and
- An updated Accessibility Guide available at sixflags.com, Guest Relations and Ride Information Centers at each park.
"As a person on the spectrum, it is exciting to see more parks taking the extra steps to accommodate all guests," said Dr. Stephen Shore, in a news release from the company. "The commitment Six Flags is making to a true certification process is impressive and means so much to millions of individuals and families. Creating family memories and recreation are essential for both individuals with ASD and their families as a whole."
The company said they recognized that, "both individuals and families with children on the autism spectrum or with sensory sensitivities find it challenging when visiting new places or planning family trips. The potential for sensory overload, combined with a lack of understanding and awareness at parks and other recreational venues, can often be overwhelming."
“We are proud to partner with IBCCES to ensure that guests on the autism spectrum have the best possible experience when visiting our parks,” said Six Flags Vice President of Safety Jason Freeman. “The certification process will equip our team members with the tools and training needed to better serve guests with special needs. We want them to know Six Flags stands ready to welcome them with open arms.”
Six Flags will be the first theme park operator to achieve the designation at all of its parks.
All measures will be in place by the spring.