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  • Writer's pictureEbony J. Ford

Miracles On The Move: Tips to Safe Summer Fun Part One

June has arrived in all of her beauty and for most, it means graduations, promotions and the beginning of summer break for most. If you’re like me, you’re trying to fill the summer with opportunities for your little ones to explore, learn and burn off some energy. My family took a trip to SeaWorld in May and before our departure, I took the time to research the accessibility and accommodations available for disabled persons as well as my daughter who is exhibiting sensory processing difficulties. I was pleasantly surprised at the many opportunities to space out high sound and movement attractions with more quiet and slow-paced exhibits. There were also specific accommodations for those who need a cool, quiet place to sit and rest. So let’s talk about the accessibility and ride accommodations available should you decide to take your miracle to a theme park.

Accessibility & Ride Accommodations

When looking to take your miracle to a theme park, it helps to look online and see what resources are available for the physically and intellectually disabled as well as the medically-fragile. One of the most frustrating parts of theme parks is the long lines. For the autistic, physically disabled and sensory sensitive, the long lines and crowded entrances can cause meltdowns, irritability and physical pain. Thankfully, many theme parks have taken these concerns into account and have taken action to ensure that their special needs patrons are comfortable and that their needs are met. Let’s talk about a few examples:

-Sesame Place offers a Ride Accessibility Program that allows guests with disabilities to wait for a ride in a "virtual queue" with a pre-scheduled boarding time. Guests may enroll in the Ride Accessibility Program at the Welcome Center when entering the park. Sesame Place features low-thrill family rides

-SeaWorld San Diego & Orlando both offer a Special Access Pass to guests with disabilities, which places the guest in a "virtual queue" with a prescheduled boarding time for each ride. Sea World also provides sign language interpreters for shows and tours, as long as the guest contacts Guest Services two weeks before the visit.

-There are 18 Six Flags theme parks and water parks in North America, and all of them offer Rider Access Passes or Equal Access Passes for guests with disabilities. These passes allow a guest with up to 3 companions to schedule a reservation time for a ride without waiting in line.

Most of these services can be obtained on the day of your visit but wait times and staff shortages may prevent you from getting the service that you deserve. I highly recommend going on each theme parks website to take a look at the accommodations that they offer can calling at least 2 weeks in advance (especially if a tour guide or companion is needed) to ensure that the appropriate staff is available. It also helps to familiarize yourself with the layout of the park so that you can map out your journey. For example, my family and I decided to work our way backwards within Sea World and opted to spread out loud, crowded attractions with quiet, more tranquil exhibits to give our sensory sensitive daughter a chance to recover and rejuvenate. We also mapped out all of the bathrooms and food stands along the journey. By researching the food stands and restaurants, I came to find that they had a drink all day option where you buy a cup and you get free refills all day long. That can be SUPER helpful when trying to ensure that you and your family stay hydrated on those hot days. That leads me to my next tip.

Medication & Nutritional Requirements Most theme parks and private play places alike will make accommodations for medication, formula and even specific foods for picky eaters and those with certain allergies when you call ahead and get certain clearances to breach their “no outside food & drink” policy. I don’t recommend entrusting any food or medications that need to be refrigerated into their care. But I do recommend investing in a compact ice cooler and utilizing the food stands to fill your refillable cups with ice to pour into the cooler if needed. For the sake of minimizing what needs to be packed, pre-filling syringes or asking for travel sized bottles from the pharmacy will make this far easier for you to not only store but keep cool if necessary.

Therapeutic Opportunities When taking time to look over the map of the theme parks, parks and splash pads I realized that with the amount of ground we would be covering and with the activities that we would be partaking in, that these visits are an INCREDIBLE opportunity to use the tools being taught in PT, OT & Speech therapy. For example,

  • physical stamina after lots of walking

  • Having your child match the walking pace of a companion

  • Practicing 2-3 step directions (i.e. turn right at the red sign & then wait)

  • verbalizing physical needs (bathroom needs, hunger, etc)

  • anticipating patterns of activity (i.e. wait in line then ride)

  • sharing/verbalizing emotion

  • joint attention (multitasking)

  • visual tracking and processing (i.e. watching rollercoasters or rides)

  • self-regulation

  • reducing sensitivity to noise and temperature through exposure

  • and the big goal: reducing anxiety while increasing a sense of trust and security (this often comes through modeling activities, exposure to different atmospheres and reassurance after completing new tasks)

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

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