April is Autism Acceptance Month. With that month approaching, Discovery Cove is announcing its renewal as a Certified Autism Center™.
What is Discovery Cove?
Discovery Cove’s website describes itself as “a unique all-inclusive day resort where you and your family will experience exciting animal encounters in a breathtaking tropical atmosphere.” This day resort experience offere experiences unlike anything else in the Orlando theme park market. This day resort is part of the SeaWorld Orlando parks with separate admission. The operating hours are from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. daily. Reservations are required.
Discovery Cove provides a tropical oasis in Central Florida, offering an all-inclusive experience. Guests enjoy one-on-one, inspiring animal interactions, including swimming with dolphins, snorkeling among tropical fish and rays, and hand-feeding exotic birds. Also, guests enjoy all-inclusive dining offerings, including a freshly prepared breakfast, lunch, all-you-can-eat snacks throughout the day, and unlimited beverages. Guests over 21 may enjoy beer and wine as well.
Certified Autism Center
Discovery Cove provides an oasis for guests. In addition, since 2019, Discovery Cove has proudly maintained being a Certified Autism Center. It became the first all-inclusive day resort and animal interaction park in the United States of America to earn certification from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). Just like for Peppa Pig Theme Park, this standard requires effort and commitment for Discovery Cove.
Discovery Cove is committed to providing an ideal setting for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to live fully, whether as guests enjoying an unforgettable vacation experience or as valued park employees working their dream job. As part of its ongoing commitment to providing a welcoming atmosphere for autistic guests, this resort deployed IBCCES’ specialized training for staff. Also, it created sensory guides and online resources for guests. It incorporated designated quiet spaces within the park, also.
Kelly Flaherty Clark of Discovery Cove
“The up-close animal encounters experienced at Discovery Cove changes lives forever – for our guests, but also for our team members who care for these amazing animals every day,” said Kelly Flaherty Clark, vice president of Zoological for Discovery Cove Orlando, who also sits on the IBCCES Advisory Board and is an advocate for the community. “This certification is an indication of how hard we work to make sure these life-changing moments can be enjoyed by all guests, in particular those with ASD.”
Discovery Cove employees, known as ambassadors, receive specialized training to ensure they have the essential knowledge, skills, temperament, and expertise to cater to autistic and sensory-sensitive guests. The training focuses on sensory awareness, motor skills, program development, social skills, communication, environment, and emotional awareness. In addition to the park’s wide open, clear spaces that can reduce sensory overload, there is a designated quiet space for additional relief from sensory stimulation.
In addition to providing an appealing atmosphere for guests, this place makes an inviting workplace for those with ASD. Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder are allowed own-pace growth, which reduces stress and pressure. In addition, unique bonds between team members and the animals happen.
“I feel like dolphins are my kindred spirit,” said Discovery Cove Trainer Colin O’Connor. “I consider it a true blessing to have the opportunity to work in an environment where I’m able to live my dream with the challenges I face as an individual with ASD.”
At a young age, Colin O’Connor’s grandfather took him regularly to SeaWorld San Diego, where he felt an immediate connection and peace. Now, as an ambassador at Discovery Cove, O’Connor calls his position as a dolphin trainer his “dream job.” Living with ASD, he appreciates learning at his own pace, without the added pressure of meeting specific goals within a certain timeframe. Best of all, he works with Marea, a 19-year-old dolphin, with whom O’Connor has formed a connection. Discovery Cove reports that O’Connor hopes his success encourages others to follow their dreams and inspires individuals with ASD to find a place that stimulates growth and encourages development.
Besides consulting the website, you can call Discovery Cove for more information for a visit or about their status as a Certified Autism Center at 407-513-4600.
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