All Theme Parks Should Follow Dollywood's Lead To Help Kids With Sensory Overload

by Valerie Williams
Image via WKRN News

Dollywood makes their park more accessible for families of kids with sensory disorders

A day at a theme park can overwhelm almost anyone, but for kids with sensory disorders, the loud sounds, bright lights and chaos presents particular obstacles. That’s why it’s great news that one park is recognizing this challenge and doing something to help families have a smoother day.

According to WKRN News 2, Dollywood added a “calming room” to their park for children with autism and other sensory disorders to take a quiet break when they experience sensory overload. Mom Heather Shuler says theme parks were simply not an option for her family because of son Hampton’s autism and his response to sensory overload. “It might mean nothing to us, but some pitch that he hears that we don’t hear and it just kind of like makes everything in their brain start spinning for themselves.”

With the calming room, Hampton is able to take a break from all the noise and regroup. Judy Toth of the Ride Accessibility Center for Dollywood says, “The children as soon as they come in will just go into the teepee and be by themselves. Or we have the fiber optic lighting, and they will either sit or lay down and just look at the lights.”

Dollywood partnered with Autism Speaks to conceptualize the room and make sure it had what kids with sensory disorders would need to decompress. Maeghan Pawley is from the organization and notes, “It has very sensory friendly objects in it, ones that kids would be using in their therapies for sensory integration.”

As far as what benefit this affords the families of children with sensory disorders, Shuler explains, “They talk a lot about how they’re in their own world, and you want to bring them out into your world but you want to bring them out where they’re feeling comfortable and we’re in it together.”

For families like Shuler’s, having a way to include a child who might not otherwise be able to go to a theme park is truly incredible. It’s just one more way children with autism and sensory disorders can participate in the world safely and happily, along with their parents, siblings and friends.

While Dollywood is the first park in the world to have a room like this available to visitors, there are calming rooms being designed at Legoland as well. Hopefully, this means the idea will swiftly catch on with other parks so more families are able to have a fun day together instead of feeling excluded.