Dollywood Becomes A More Autism-Friendly Theme Park

Dollywood has become the very first theme park to provide a safe place for children with autism or sensory disorders to go when they need to calm down and take a break from sensory overload so they can continue to enjoy the amusement park with the rest of their family.

According to the video above, Dollywood is the first theme park in the world to incorporate a sensory room filled with all of the things a child on the autism spectrum or a child with a sensory disorder needs for calming and soothing purposes. The room was created so these children and their families could go on a vacation and enjoy a theme park the same as anyone else.

Huffington Post reports that Judy Toth, the Dollywood team leader, first had the idea to add a calming room when she realized just how many children with autism were using the accessibility center at the park. The parents of these children were using the first aid station and bathrooms in order to help their children recover from a sensory overload. Toth didn’t think it was right that the children had nowhere to go to calm down. She didn’t think these parents should be hiding in the bathroom with their children until they calm down.

Thanks to the introduction of this new sensory room, these autistic children now have someone to go when they are experiencing a sensory overload. Toth believes many children on the spectrum would never get the opportunity to experience an amusement park such as Dollywood if it were not for this new room.

According to Huffington Post, Toth reached out to Autism Speaks to get help with designing the calming room. The room is filled with low-sensory toys such as a cozy teepee tent and gentle glowing lights.

“A big thank you to Dollywood from our family and the autism community,” one parent wrote on Dollywood’s Facebook page. “On my son’s first trip to Dollywood he became overstimulated and had a terrible meltdown… If we had a room like that to escape to, things may have been different.”

“The children as soon as they come in will just go into the teepee and be by themselves,” Judy Toth said.

“Or we have the fiber optic lighting, and they will either sit or lay down and just look at the lights. It means to me that Dollywood is doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

By adding a calming room to the theme park, Dollywood has made a monumental step for children with autism and children with sensory disorders. Going to a place that is autism-friendly or sensory disorder friendly is of utmost concern for the parents of these children. Dolly Parton, the creator of Dollywood, has been known as an advocate for children for a long time. Dolly is a woman who understands that all children are different. She knows some children have more needs than others. At Dollywood, she wants the parents of all children to be able to bring those children on a vacation and enjoy the theme park together.

Legoland Florida announced that they would be making changes to their theme park to add a much needed sensory space for children with autism and/or sensory disorders back in March. Those with children who have autism or sensory disorders can only hope more amusement parks will start to do what Dollywood has done as it would open up more options on where to take the family for vacation.

What do you think about Dollywood making changes to become more autism and sensory disorder friendly? If you or someone you know has a child with autism, do you think you will be making plans to head to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to go to Dollywood? Do you think other amusement parks should consider doing what Dollywood has done and introduction autism friendly and sensory disorder friendly features?

[Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images]