Discovery Cove becomes first animal interaction park to be a certified autism center

Discovery Cove is officially the first all-inclusive day resort and animal interaction park in the U.S. to become a certified autism center.

On Tuesday, Discovery Cove, in conjunction with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), announced the completion of a staff-wide autism sensitivity and awareness training. They also completed an onsite review of the park property and guest experience.

The completion of the training and review listed designates Discovery as a Certified Autism Center (CAC) as distinguished by IBCCES, making it the first all-inclusive day resort and animal interaction park in the U.S. to be certified. 

SeaWorld Entertainment has led the way in CAC certification. Sesame Place became the first theme park in the world to be certified as a CAC in April 2018.  Aquatica Orlando soon followed, becoming the first water park in the world to reach this accreditation.

At Discovery Cove, guests can swim with dolphins, snorkel among thousands of tropical fish, and experience other unique animal interactions among a tropical setting of rocky lagoons, lush landscaping, and white, sandy beaches. 

With the assistance of IBCCES, the staff at Discovery Cove will be continually trained to assist guests with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families. This will help ensure a positive experience during their visits. 

Guests will also be provided with specific information about each of the Discovery Cove experiences, along with in-park accommodations to help them plan their day and make informed choices best suited to their individual needs. 

“Discovery Cove has long been recognized for its adventure-filled yet relaxed environment with a variety of open, clear spaces that make attractions and services more accessible. and reduces sensory overload for guests with cognitive disorders,” said Kyle Miller, President of Discovery Cove.  

“Autism certification is a natural step for us as we continue to create safe and meaningful experiences for all of our guests.  We have seen how well received this certification has been at our Sesame Place and Aquatica Orlando parks, and we are committed in our efforts to offer families inclusive activities for children with autism and other special needs," Miller also stated.

As a CAC, Discovery Cove must provide ongoing training to ensure that team members have the requisite knowledge, skills, temperament, and expertise to interact with all families and children with special needs, specifically on the autism spectrum.

Training focuses on sensory awareness, environment, communication, motor and social skills, program development, and emotional awareness. There will also be a comprehensive autism competency exam. 

Training must be completed every two years in order to maintain the certification.

According to Myron Pincomb, Board Chairman of IBCCES, "We're thrilled to see the commitment and enthusiasm of the team at Discovery Cove and its sister parks in serving guests on the spectrum and with sensory sensitivities. Certification and review are so important to ensure all guests feel welcomed and safe in these environments. This should be the industry standard, and we're working with leaders in the field to make that happen."

Larry Celzo, a member of the IBCCES community and parent with a son on the autism spectrum said of the Discovery Cove certification, “After so many years of learning how to integrate our 15-year old son with autism into our community, it is refreshing to witness society becoming more aware of how hard we work to provide the same type of recreation and entertainment families without special needs enjoy. I really applaud the organizations who go above and beyond to become trained and certified in autism and other special needs.”                                                                          

Planning resources will be added to the Discovery Cove website. Included will be a sensory guide developed by IBCCES, which provides insight into how a child with sensory processing issues may be affected by each sense for each attraction. This will make it easier for parents to plan activities that will satisfy their child's specific needs and accommodations. 

Added IBCCES’ Pincomb, pre-planning is vital for families in the autism community.  “Having a comprehensive resource that allows families to plan their day and avoid the element of surprise is vital. Understanding what the park offers, from its experiences to available food selections, helps in making their day a success.” 

Discovery Cove will also have a quiet space inside the park with adjustable lighting and a comfortable seating area for guests to take a break.