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Research has shown that activities like animal interaction, swimming and outdoor play can be highly therapeutic for children on the autism spectrum. Which is why we were thrilled to discover that more themes parks and family destinations are offering safe, sensory-friendly and certified options for visitors with autism.

 In order to achieve Certified Autism Center status from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, at least 80 percent of the staff must have received specialized training, sensory guides must be available and there should be quiet rooms and low-sensory areas on site. Here, five great places for families with the qualification. 

RELATED: The 7 Best All-Inclusive Destinations for Families

sesame place
Courtesy of Sesame Place

Sesame Place

The Sesame Street-themed park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, became the first theme park to receive the Certified Autism Center qualifier back in 2018—because Elmo should be for all families. This popular park features a variety of Sesame Street-themed attractions including over 16 rides, nine water attractions and three shows per day plus a daily parade (sit closest to where it begins for low sensory parade viewing, i.e., no direct character interaction). For those guests in need of some downtime, check out one of two quiet rooms near Big Bird’s Rambling River or pick up a set of noise-canceling headphones at the Welcome Center. Or meet Julia, the sweet, curious four-year-old with autism “who sometimes does things differently” and has been on the scene since 2017 teaching all about acceptance.

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Aquatica Orlando Dolphin Plunge
Aquatica Orlando

Aquatica Orlando

SeaWorld, which owns Sesame Place, added another one of its destinations to the list of Certified Autism Centers this January with Aquatica Orlando in Florida—the first water park certified by IBCCES. Thrill-seekers will love the slides while those looking to relax can head to one of the many pools and beaches. Need relief from all that stimulation? There’s a quiet room located near Kata's Kookaburra Cove with adjustable lighting and comfortable seating, and a low sensory area behind Loggerhead Lane. A family favorite? The Dolphin Plunge—twin slides that take you through the underwater world of the black-and-white Commerson's dolphins.

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Tiger at Zoo Miami
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Zoo Miami

The only sub-tropical zoo in the continental United States boasts plenty of mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians (over 500 species, in fact) to entertain visitors of all ages. But children, in particular, will love the opportunity to feed giraffes, camels, parrots and an ancient Galapagos tortoise. Not only does this Florida destination offer sensory guides, quiet areas and trained staff, it also gives its guests with special needs sensory bags with noise-canceling headphones and fidget toys or stress balls. Three cheers for inclusivity. 

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Colebrookdale Railroad
Colebrookdale Railroad

Colebrookdale Railroad

Got a kid who’s loco for locomotives? All aboard this historical railroad attraction (also known as the Secret Valley Line) that’s located between Berks and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania. Ideal for a day trip (the journey takes about two hours), passengers on the Colebrookdale can enjoy a meal in the dining car, relax in the coach or take in the passing scenery from the Open Car. Rest assured knowing that the majority of staff have been trained in communication, motor skills and sensory and emotional awareness (and will repeat this training every two years). 

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Georgia Aquarium
Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium

One of the world’s largest aquariums, this destination in Atlanta has everything from belugas and sea dragons to puffins and penguins. Expedited entrance lines are available for anyone with autism, along with designated quiet zones throughout the aquarium. And don’t forget to pick up a free sensory bag with noise-canceling headsets, sunglasses, a pair of fidget devices and an “I need/I feel” card, which can help nonverbal kids communicate with staff. Can’t-miss exhibit: The manta rays—Georgia is the only U.S. aquarium that has them. 

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Find a full list of Certified Autism Centers here.

RELATED: The 7 Most Amazing Aquariums in the U.S.

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