Water is a very powerful and healing tool for people who are on the autism spectrum. It can be extremely therapeutic and also provides behavioral benefits along with the physical benefits of being active in the water.
Being in the water often gives a sense of calm to individuals on the spectrum, especially children. The buoyancy and pressure of the water creates a supportive environment where they are able to develop their sensory processing skills through hydrostatic pressure, vestibular stimulation and proprioceptive feedback.
On top of this, when children are able to play and have fun in the water the positive effects are seen long after. Children with autism who spend time in the water have been reported to be more talkative, social, cooperative, in a better mood and able to focus better afterwards.
When traveling with a child who is on the spectrum it may be a good idea to consider travel destinations that provide water experiences suited for them. Below you will find a list of Certified Autism Centers (CAC) that offer different types of water activities for families.
Travel Options and Water Activities
Discovery Cove: Orlando, FL
Discovery Cove is a great travel option that has earned the Certified Autism Center (CAC) credential and features a variety of entertaining water activities. Located in Orlando, Florida this incredible all-inclusive resort will make you and your family feel like you’ve traveled to an exotic tropical island. The park features gorgeous white sand beaches, lagoons, reefs and rivers. It’s truly a nature paradise. Between swimming with dolphins, wading in fresh water with otters or snorkeling in the Grand Reef, Discovery Cove provides countless experiences for families to take advantage of.
The CAC certification has allowed Discovery Cove to make the park more accessible to people with autism and other sensory disorders, helping them to create an environment that reduces sensory overload. With its calm setting, open spaces and trained staff, it is the perfect place for families who are on the spectrum to enjoy a vacation.
Aquatica: Orlando, FL
Also located in one of the most popular tourist destinations, Orlando, FL, Aquatica is a family-friendly water park. As the first water park in the world to become a CAC, Aquatica has received training in autism awareness and sensitivity and is now able to provide an unparalleled guest experience to individuals on the autism spectrum. The park also underwent an onsite review and has incorporated sensory guides create dby IBCCES for each ride or attraction to ensure guests are aware of how the ride experience will impact each of the 5 senses.
Aquatica’s staff is prepared to identify visual cues that might indicate a guest needs assistance and they are fully trained to step in and handle each situation with care. The sensory guides are also available on their website also provides guests with information about each attraction so families can pick and choose what will fit their needs before even arriving at the park.
SeaWorld Orlando: Orlando, FL
SeaWorld Orlando recently became a CAC this past World Autism Awareness Day. Following Aquatica and Discovery Cove, SeaWorld Orlando is extremely proud to serve people on the autism spectrum and their families.
Mark Pauls, SeaWorld Orlando’s Park President, says, “We want to create lasting memories for all our guests. As families start planning their summer travel, the resources and tools that our parks now offer can provide peace of mind for families with members that have autism and other special needs. Our parks and staff are now equipped to offer families inclusive activities, helping to ensure meaningful experiences for everyone.”
The training to become a Certified Autism Center consists of certifying a minimum of 80% of staff in autism sensitivity and awareness. The IBCCES certification also included an onsite review of the park and overall guest experience. Families who have autism can expect to find quiet spaces within the park, a sensory guide online to help them plan their time in the park and a knowledgeable staff that is willing and ready to make their time enjoyable and safe.
Thanks to SeaWorld Orlando, families with children on the spectrum can experience all the thrills and fun that a water park entails.
PADI: Dive Centers and Resorts
PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, has teamed up with IBCCES in order to make the CAC training available to all PADI Dive Centers and Resorts. Special needs travel is the fastest growing segment of the market and now families who have autism can engage in unforgettable activities, such as diving.
“Diving has frequently proven to be a transformative and healing experience for individuals with physical or emotional challenges and their families,” said Kristin Valette-Wirth, Chief Marketing Officer of PADI Worldwide.
As an industry leader in diving, PADI has changed the way families who have autism can vacation. Research has shown that participating in invigorating activities like travel, water entertainment, animal interaction, and outdoor play can be extremely therapeutic for individuals who are on the autism spectrum.
PADI Dive Centers and Resorts who are CAC certified will have received proper training that will equip them with knowledge in areas related to autism such as sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor and social skills, program development and emotional awareness.Check the list of certified destinations on autismtravel.com for certified PADI locations.
If diving isn’t possible, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the next best thing. Ripley’s completed the CAC research-based training this past March and is well-equipped to serve their guests who are on the spectrum. As the first organization to become a CAC in Canada, the Ripley’s staff takes great pride in the certification. Peter Doyle, Ripley’s General Manager, says, “By undergoing IBCCES’ intensive training process, we are able to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for autism families that inspires and educates them about aquatic life in a fun and immersive way.”
The autism sensitivity and awareness training has enabled guests with special needs to enjoy the busy aquarium without getting overwhelmed or feeling uncomfortable. With an updated accessibility guide and new sensory guides for each exhibit, families can prepare their day at the aquarium ahead of time.
Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is a 1.5 million gallon aquarium featuring over 35,000 fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. This animal adventure is the perfect destination for families looking for a day of fun. Children can enjoy learning about the animal kingdom while taking in the serene ocean-like setting.
After the CAC training, the aquarium is now ready to accommodate families with autism and other sensory needs. They will participate in ongoing staff training and have made proper adaptations to suit each guest’s needs. With the CAC training complete, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is now a destination that families with autism can visit to get closer to nature and make beautiful memories together.
Georgia Aquarium: Atlanta, GA
If your travels take you to Atlanta and your family is looking for some aquatic fun then look no further. The Georgia Aquarium showcases tens of thousands of animals across hundreds of incredible exhibits. There’s truly something that every family member will appreciate seeing.
As a CAC, the Georgia Aquarium has pledged to continue on-going training in order to remain an expert in autism and properly serve each guest. Anthony Rivera, Vice President of Guest Experience and Hospitality says, “Georgia Aquarium is dedicated to providing our guests with an exceptional experience that allows them to connect with the wonders of the aquatic world. We are thrilled to be leading the zoo and aquarium industry through our commitment to making our facility friendly for families with children on the spectrum. We look forward to applying this training and working to provide the best possible experience for all of our guests with the ultimate goal of inspiring awareness and preservation of our ocean and aquatic animals worldwide.”
For a fun, educational experience that will give your family a taste of ocean life, Georgia Aquarium is a perfect option.
Beaches Resorts: Jamaica, Turks and Caicos
Looking for the perfect Caribbean getaway for the whole family? Beaches Resorts has three locations that have become Advanced CACs: Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Negril, Jamaica and Turks and Caicos. Each resort features a Kid’s Camp with a team that has been fully trained in autism sensitivity and awareness so parents can relax knowing their kids are in good hands. The team members have even undergone an additional training to receive an Autism Certificate (AC), which prepares them to work one-on-one with individuals who are on the spectrum.
Joel Ryan, the Group Manager of Entertainment & Youth Activities comments, “We chose IBCCES because of their expertise and ability to provide the knowledge and competency needed by our Kids Camp staff to properly care for families with children on the spectrum; in turn, vacationing families have the comfort and confidence of knowing their children are in good care.”
Take a load off and relax with your loved ones in a beautiful destination where your entire family will feel cared for.
Travel to a Certified Autism Center with Confidence
Travel destinations are noticing the importance of becoming a CAC. The value the training allows them to provide to their guests makes it an easy decision. Fortunately, families who have autism no longer need to miss out on traveling opportunities, especially ones that involve exciting water activities.