Going to a theme park can be tons of fun—but it can also easily overwhelm any child. For a child with autism or other sensory issues, the rides, loud noises, flashing lights, crowds, new smells, and the general atmosphere of theme parks can quickly become too much. For just this reason, Dollywood, the amusement park founded by Dolly Parton in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, recently added a "calming room," where guests can retreat for a quiet, relaxing experience. The room is small, with comfy chairs, a tent, low-level lighting, and many sensory-soothing items like strings of fiber-optic lights.
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While this calming room may not sound like much, it could make a huge difference for kids like my autistic son and for our whole family. Normally, when my son gets overwhelmed, we seek out refuges in public spaces—be it some shade under a tree in a quiet corner of a park or a corner booth in a restaurant— but the idea of having a dedicated space for kids to work through sensory issues is so appealing. I would love to see more of these in many public spaces, and I applaud Dollywood for its vision and recognition of the need for such a space.
Parents who have used the calming room are also singing its praises. According to notes they've written to Dollywood, they're getting to stay at Dollywood longer, and their kids are having a better time.
Although this is the first calming room of its kind at any theme park, others—notably Legoland—are beginning to follow Dollywood's example.
I've always loved Dollywood (it's the closest theme park to my hometown in East Tennessee), but now I can't wait to take both my kids there for an afternoon of fun at our own pace!