Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, recently opened a new calming room for visitors. Judy Toth, who works in the park’s ride accessibility center, noticed an increase in visiting families of children with autism, states an article in The Huffington Post. Often, they couldn’t stay long, because the kids would get overwhelmed and melt down. Toth also noticed families hanging out in the bathrooms or first aid station to give their kids a break.
Toth worked with Autism Speaks to design a space appropriate for helping kids relax. The room features low lighting, a tepee for privacy, cushy bean bag chairs, stuffed animals and even items used in treatment, such as fiberoptic light strands. Families can spend up to a half hour in the room to let their children recover from sensory overload. Several news reports credit the space as the first in the world for any amusement park. However, Legoland announced plans to add several calming spaces to its Orlando, Florida, location.
According to Toth, families use and appreciate the calming room. Many share their thanks for the space in a guest book. Some families write about how the room allowed them to take their kids to an amusement park for the first time.
“I just felt like Dollywood needed to do something, so I did some research and discovered that if they [families of children with autism] had a place to go that’s quiet, that’s away from people for just a brief time, that they could continue to have a great day with us at Dollywood,” stated Toth in an interview with local Tennessee NBC station WBIR.