13 Apr Inclusive spaces for children with autism
Last week, the Sesame Street theme park received the world’s first autism certification. Sesame Place, which is based on the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street, was granted the award after its staff completed training on autism sensitivity and awareness.
The park will include quiet rooms for children and a sensory guide to help parents plan their visits. The park received the award as part of the US National Autism Awareness Month and will reopen for its new season at the end of April. While Sesame Place is the first to receive the autism certification, other parks have moved to adapt their facilities to accommodate guests with autism.
Other businesses have also taken steps to build autism friendly spaces. In March 2017, Legoland’s resort in Florida introduced quiet rooms, illustrated guides and free passes to allow guests to bypass queues at popular attractions. Shops have also introduced new opening hours for children with autism, the toy shop ‘The Entertainer’ has now rolled out a nationwide weekly ‘Quiet Hour’ to create a calming shopping experience for autistic children after a successful pilot during February half term.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) welcomed the news. Daniel Cadey, autism access development manager said he was “delighted” the toy shop was taking a positive step to make shopping a better experience for children with autism.
What is autism?
Autism is part of a range of conditions known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).
It is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. This can cause problems with social interaction, language skills and physical behaviour.
With Asperger syndrome, a milder form of autism, children are often average or above average intelligence but experience symptoms affecting behaviour and social interaction.
In the most severe cases, a person with autism may be almost unable to communicate and need ‘round the clock’ care. Autism diagnoses have increased in recent years, although this is believed to be due to a better understanding of the condition. More men and boys are currently diagnosed than women and girls.
In developing countries the number of people diagnosed with ASD is significantly lower. This is due to a lack of trained healthcare professionals (notably physicians), cultural skepticism and mere unawareness of the problem. Havard’s Global Health Review gives the example that “in South East Asia there is one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, making mental health services or diagnoses extremely difficult to access.”
Building Inclusive Spaces
Sesame Place was given the award by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), a body that provides international autism certification to the health and education sectors.
The theme park’s new certification means that all employees receive ongoing training in the “skills, temperament and expertise” needed to work alongside families and children with special needs. People with autism often struggle with sensory overload, meaning that queues, loud noises and bright lights can all be overwhelming.
The park now has two specially designed quiet rooms on site and sensory guides that enable parents to plan how each attraction could affect their child’s sensory processing issues.
It’s estimated that 64% of families affected by autism avoid going to shops altogether. Steps such as “Quiet Hour” should be a shopping norm where businesses turn down music and other noise and dim lights, in a bid to make every customer’s experience a positive one.
If shops and services could follow the steps of these businesses it would lead to a more autism-friendly world. A basic understanding of autism could transform the lives of autistic people and their families, reducing feelings of isolation or being trapped in their homes.