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How Legoland Florida became more inclusive for guests with autism

Get discounted LEGOLAND Florida Resort theme park tickets in honor or April, World Autism Month!

This guest blog post is by David Brady, Senior Public Relations Manager, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort

Over the past year, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort in Winter Haven, Fla., has worked closely with the North and Central Florida chapter of Autism Speaks to make the popular vacation destination a more welcoming place for guests with autism spectrum disorders. For many of our employees (called “Model Citizens”), it’s a uniquely personal effort.

“Offering the ASD community a theme park experience that embraces and understands their special needs is paramount to allow for growth, joy and a day away from the normal routine,” said LEGOLAND Health Services supervisor Ken Flanders. “The numerous testimonials we’ve received certainly attest to this, and we’re proud to serve the community in this capacity.”

Jill Hamm, a member of the resort’s Health & Safety team, agrees.

“Being an ASD-friendly park is very important to me, because we should be making every effort to provide a fun theme park experience for as many people as possible,” she said. “It’s great to make it easier for more families to enjoy what we have to offer.”

Here are a few recent examples of how we’ve made our resort more inclusive:

·       To assist those who have difficulty waiting in line, we’ve created a pass specifically for guests on the autism spectrum. Available at Guest Services, the no-cost “Blue Hero Pass” allows the guest and his or her family or group to bypass the standby line at popular attractions.

·       Specially equipped spaces in our Annual Pass, First Aid and Baby Care facilities now serve as designated “quiet rooms” where quests who are on the autism spectrum and their families can take a break. Noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, squishy toys and LEGO® building tables are some of the complimentary resources available. A similar space also is available within Guest Services at our water park.

·       Our Training & Development team has created “social stories” that offer an illustrated, step-by-step walkthrough of every ride and show, so guests won’t be surprised by periods of darkness, loud noises, bright lights or other elements that sometimes can be frightening or overwhelming. They’re available for review at Guest Services in the theme park.

·       Newly hired Model Citizens now receive specialized training to help them more effectively interact with guests on the autism spectrum and their families or caregivers.

“We continuously teach our team to, above all, be patient with each guest and treat everyone with the respect they deserve,” said Haley Travis, a leader in Training & Development. “We have a wonderful opportunity to build and grow how we approach guests with autism spectrum disorders.”

Meanwhile, during World Autism Month, we’re showing our support for the many guests with autism spectrum disorders who visit us from around the world:

·       Like we did last year, we’re once again taking part in the “Light It Up Blue” campaign in honor of April 2’s World Autism Awareness Day. This year we’re lighting some of the miniature LEGO® landmarks throughout our theme park’s MINILAND USA in blue.

·       Through a special promotion during World Autism Month, LEGOLAND Florida Resort will contribute $15 of the proceeds from each ticket sold to the North and Central Florida chapter of Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks supporters can purchase theme park tickets at a discounted rate of $45 plus tax, a $48 savings. This offer is only available online through Autism Speaks from April 1 through May 31, 2017.

·       Outside our resort, on Saturday, April 22, we’ll host a hands-on building opportunity for kids during the Autism Speaks Walk at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., and on Saturday, Nov. 11’s walk at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs, Fla., near Orlando.

“No child or person should feel as if they cannot do something simply because they are different,” said Nick Parham, a coordinator in the resort’s Education department. “I’m extremely passionate about creating an environment that reaches out to all types of people, no matter the circumstances.”

Our parent company, Merlin Entertainments, operates under a set of values that includes “we care,” and by working in partnership with organizations like Autism Speaks, we’re committed to ensure that the place #BuiltForKids is truly built for all kids.

Read more about LEGOLAND Florida's autism-friendly initiatives at TheMighty.com.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.