PIGEON FORGE (WATE) – Families of children with autism now have a place to go at Dollywood for a quiet, relaxing environment if they experience sensory overload.
It is called a calming room, and it is the first of its kind at any theme park in the world. All the sights and sounds of a theme park can be a little too overwhelming for children with autism, so having a quiet place to go can help them and their family.
Visiting theme parks has never been an option for Heather Shuler and her family. Her son Hampton is autistic and affected by sensory overloads.
“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,” Shuler said.
Hampton can take a break inside the calming room and regroup.
“The children as soon as they come in will just go into the teepee and be by themselves,” said Judy Toth with the Ride Accessibility Center at Dollywood. “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 make sure the room had exactly what was needed.
“(It) has very sensory friendly objects in it, ones that kids would be using in their therapies for sensory integration,” said Maeghan Pawley with Autism Speaks.
It makes all the difference for families who have used the room.
“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,” said Shuler.
Some of them have written letters in a book inside the room. One of them read, “Thanks to you we were able to stay in the park later and calm Mikey.”
“It means to me that Dollywood is doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Toth.
While Dollywood is the first theme park in the world to have a calming room like this one, others are being designed right now at Legoland.