Sesame Street took thousands of visitors to Chula Vista, California, on a sunny day.
The newly opened Sesame Place San Diego provides children of all ages with familiar faces and spaces from the TV series, but it was designed with specific guests in mind.
Sesame Place is a Certified Autism Center, just as the original Sesame Place was near Philadelphia, and accessible accommodations aren’t limited to autistic guests.
Jim Lake, president of Sesame Place San Diego and SeaWorld San Diego, said, “We have made a special effort to make sure that everyone understands what our attractions offer to decide if it is the right experience.”
Before visiting her son Angelo, autistic and nonverbal, Elysha Cruz researched and daughter Alena, 17, who has Down syndrome.
Cruz wasn’t sure how Angelo would do on his first ride, Elmo’s Rockin’ Rockets, which spins while riders control if their car moves up or down. Cruz said, “My son brought me here; it’s his favorite show. That’s the only kid’s show he watches.”
A sensory guide is available at each attraction at the park and an accessibility guide for guests with disabilities.
Julia, a Sesame Street character who is autistic, is often teamed up with other characters like Rosita for meet and greets and may reflect guests’ sensory needs.
Instead of touching fans, Julia held tightly to her stuffy, and there were times when she turned her back on crowds.
Zoe Gross, director of advocacy for Autism Self Advocacy Network, which collaborated with Sesame Street in 2017 to develop Julia’s character before ending its relationship, stressed the importance of understanding “the diversity of the autism spectrum, in terms of both how it presents and who is or isn’t autistic.”
She said, “Autism looks different in different people. Someone may be behaving in a way that you don’t associate with Autism, but they could still need the same accommodations.”
There are many sensory experiences at theme parks, including crowds, noise, bright colors, flashing lights, and close contact with strangers, so accommodations can enable more people to visit.
Rooms with a quieter atmosphere are available for guests who need a significant break from the blare.
Ana Karina Suarez, an occupational therapist whose kids are autistic, could have used those spaces when she was young and still can.
Suarez said, “It’s essential that theme parks make experiences available to autistic guests.”
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment CEO Marc Swanson recalls hearing from a father after Sesame Place became a Certified Autism Center in 2018.
Swanson said, “This was the first time he could take his teenage son to a theme park and felt like he could have a good time.”