I recently heard that Sesame Place had become a Certified Autism Center, which means that staff members are trained in various areas, like sensory awareness, communication, and emotional awareness. Our last trip to Sesame Place had gone well and we did have fun, but would it be different now?
Preparing for the trip
Luckily for us, my four-year-old son Julian’s afterschool program takes families on a trip to Sesame Place every year. About one week before the trip, I created a social story for Julian using pictures from our trip the year before and we started reading it at bedtime. We spoke about how we would get there, all of the great rides he would go on, places we could have lunch, and how fun it would be to meet the characters.
When traveling to Sesame Place, we rode on the yellow school bus, ate breakfast in our seats, and played with toys that I had packed in his backpack. Upon arrival, I reminded him that we needed to make a stop at the Welcome Center (which was included in our social story) before we could start exploring.
At the Welcome Center, Julian’s information was already in their system. We updated his height, signed the log book, and were given a red band with three tabs for wet rides and a card that was good for six dry rides. The woman at the welcome center explained that I should use “Abby’s Magic Queue,” which gives you front-of-line access at certain rides.
The Lazy River and water rides
Our first stop was the Lazy River, where we showed our bands and were allowed right on. We went around the river about four times before we switched to the next ride. The worker at the ride didn’t ask for any of our tabs and let Julian ride as many times as he liked. She was very patient getting him into his tube and allowed him to take his time to determine which way he felt more comfortable. From there we had loads of fun on almost all of the rides in the water section, and we only had one worker ask for one of our tabs. We were even able to get back on the lazy river another 2 times before switching over to dry rides.
Lunch was the most difficult part of the day for us because sometimes the food lines can take about an hour. I waited at a picnic table with Julian and his friends while my sister picked up some food for us. I imagine that if I had to wait on the line with Julian for food, it would not have gone well. In most cases, if you can, it is better to have an extra adult around to help.
While walking to get lunch, we noticed that there were two quiet rooms located next to Big Bird’s Rambling River, and that many of the other kids in the park were wearing noise cancelling headphones (something new that Sesame Place offers). I cannot explain how happy I was to see this. As a parent, I feel that quiet places are something every public space should offer. It’s so easily to get overwhelmed in theme parks, disability or not. One of the amazing things I noticed during our visit was that there were more kids with disabilities present and enjoying themselves. The atmosphere was very inclusive and made my heart smile.
We attended one of the shows “Let’s Play Together” and were given reserved seating in the front of the theater (a great accomodation for children who use wheelchairs). The characters interacted with the audience and allowed Julian to give them high-fives and hugs. All of the characters came over to dance with another child, who was using a wheelchair. All in all, it was a great experience.
When we switched to dry rides, Julian decided that he wanted to go on the two biggest rollercoasters he saw: Oscar’s Wacky Taxi and the Vapor Trail. He went on each of these rides two times and the workers at the station allowed him to use only one dry ride on his card for each. They understood that sometimes kids just really wanted to ride the same thing twice. The pictures from the rides were hilarious. He looked absolutely petrified but got off smiling and laughing each time.
While walking through the park we came across some characters. I walked up to the worker in charge and asked if we could have a time to come back because Julian didn’t do well waiting on lines. She informed me that since he has a disability, he did not have to wait and allowed him to come right up for a picture. This was amazing for me, because if we’d had to wait in line, he never would have gotten to hug some of his favorite characters.
All in all, we had a great time! The environment and atmosphere at Sesame Place was one of inclusivity. The staff were great and the day went smoothly despite the normal meltdowns here and there. Next time I think we will try out the Character Dine to see if it helps with the transition for lunch. Now when I think of Sesame Place as a Certified Autism Center, I understand that they have tried to accommodate Julian in almost every way possible.