Six Flags becomes first theme park chain to make all locations Certified Autism Centers

Six Flags becomes first theme park chain to make all locations Certified Autism Centers
Image via Six Flags
Along with an increase in understanding of autism and how to address the needs of guests on the spectrum, Six Flags has become the first chain to have every location designated an Certified Autism Center. As the world's largest regional theme park company, the designation means more than two dozen North American theme parks are now certified centers, with multiple tools usable for people with autism and their companions.

Being certificated means a park offers certain resources, provides required training to staff and hosts on-site audits to ensure the specific needs related to autism are met. The certification is via the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, the primary organization for the travel and tourism industry. The certification was created in response to the overused and unclear term "autism-friendly."

As with all certified centers, 80 percent of guest-facing staff at Six Flags parks will be required to complete training designed by IBCCES, which includes segments on understanding the autism spectrum, communication strategies and safety.

Every attraction will have sensory guides which guests can use to make informed decisions about what to expect on rides. Culinary options will be expanded to meet dietary needs, including gluten-free options. Special in-park spaces for guests with sensory needs provide a place to relax in a less stimulating environment. Six Flags will also provide IBCCES Accessibility Cards, which are "designed to help individuals with cognitive or physical disorders identify and receive helpful accommodations at certified attractions worldwide." Six Flags is the first amusement park company to use the cards chain-wide.

"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, a leading expert and advocate for autism awareness. "The commitment Six Flags is making to a true certification process is impressive and means so much to millions of individuals and families.

More than 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within a six-hour drive of a Six Flags park.

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"IBCCES is extremely excited to work with a family of parks with this level of commitment," said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman. "So many families just need more communication and understanding from parks and other attractions, so they can make those memories together that we all cherish.

The first park to become a certified autism center (CAC) was SeaWorld’s Sesame Place in Pittsburgh. Since then, other parks, including both SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica Orlando, have become CACs, with Aquatica Orlando being the first water park to receive the certification.

The move by Six Flags dramatically increases the number of parks using them. More than 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within a six-hour drive of a Six Flags park.

"In some cases, small changes can make a huge impact, and our certification program ensures each park is committed to long-term growth and understanding, not just a one-time training," said Pincomb.

Numerous other attractions ranging from ZooMiami to The GRAMMY Museum have all been certified in recent years. Beyond the attractions themselves, autism awareness within the travel industry has seen the IBCCES also roll out a certification programs for travel professionals that requires continuing education and a competency exam.

Other travel companies, from Marriott and Beaches, have worked with IBCCES to develop programs beyond the primary certification, creating the Advanced Certified Autism Center program that requires even more training and on-site tools for guests. Marriott's Springhill Suites and Fairfield Inn across from SeaWorld Orlando were two of the first hotels in Central Florida to become Certified Autism Centers.

It should be noted that the move by SeaWorld shouldn't come as much of a surprise, since the Vice President of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove, Kelly Flaherty Clark, also serves on the IBCCES Advisory Board. Other tourism-related board members include International Ride Training's managing member and general counsel, Erik Beard, and Visit Mesa's President and CEO, Marc Garcia.

Back at Six Flags, leadership pointed to the training program as one of the reasons why they went with IBCCES. "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 has confirmed that all of their parks will be certified by this spring.

"Creating family memories and recreation are essential for both individuals with ASD and their families as a whole," said Shore, in response to the news.

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