Sesame Place Has Been Awarded A New Accolade – And It’s A World First For A Theme Park

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Sesame Place is a theme park based on the children’s television show Sesame Street. And taking its cues from the series, the attraction has recently gained a prestigious accolade. And the honor is a world-first for a theme park.

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For almost 50 years now, TV show Sesame Street has delighted generations of young viewers. And it’s not just kids that love it. Indeed, over the decades, the educational show has bagged an unprecedented eight Grammy Awards and 167 Emmy Awards. Furthermore, by 2009 it had been broadcast in over 140 countries.

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Some of Sesame Street’s enduring success is, at least in part, down to the show’s willingness to move with the times. When the series first aired in 1969, it was the first show aimed at a preschool audience that used scientific research as a basis for its content. In fact, the series even followed the U.S. curriculum.

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Over the years the focus of the show has expanded to cover a large range of topics. These include emotions, relationships and ethics. Many of these story-lines are drawn from the lives of the Sesame Street crew and often tackle difficult subjects.

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For instance, after Will Lee – the actor who played Mr. Hooper – died in 1982, the show used his passing as an opportunity to talk openly about death. In a later episode, Big Bird remembers his friend’s passing, but is sure that Mr Hooper will return. That’s when other characters remind him that his buddy won’t return, but that Big Bird’s memories will never fade.

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In 2014 Sesame Street actress Loretta Long revealed the legacy of that poignant episode in an interview. “People still come up to me on the street telling me what it meant to them to be able to talk to their children about death,” she told the Archive of American Television.

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Another subject that Sesame Street often tackles is diversity. The show confronted racism in the 1990s and in South Africa they debuted an HIV-positive character, Kami, in the 2000s. Moreover, the series has also championed inclusion when it comes to disability.

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While the television industry still has a long way to go in terms of representing disability, Sesame Street was an early advocate of diversity. In the 1970s, show writer Emily Kingsley campaigned for more inclusion on the show. Consequently, her son Jason Kingsley, who has Down syndrome, was on the show for 55 episodes.

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Since then the show has featured many kids of different abilities. And its attitude has been celebrated by many, including academic Charles A. Riley. Indeed, the author wrote about the importance of diversity on Sesame Street in his 2015 book, Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change.

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In one passage, Riley quotes Kingsley as saying, “We include kids with disabilities [on the show] just as part of the gang. Children in the audience get validation when they see others like themselves. Their siblings receive gratifying reinforcement seeing kids like those in their own families. We take the strangeness out of it. Why should difference be equated with fear?”

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In 2017 Sesame Street went one step further in its quest for diversity by introducing Julia – a Muppet with autism – to the show. The creators hoped that children with the developmental disability would be able to recognize the character’s similarity to them. Meanwhile, perhaps their classmates would hopefully be able to understand the condition a little better.

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In order to achieve this goal, Julia exhibited some behaviors that kids on the spectrum might present. These included an aversion to noisy things, anxiety when meeting new people and enthusiasm when playing with her friends. However, the addition of Julia to the show isn’t the only way that Sesame Street is encouraging autism awareness.

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Sesame Place – the show’s very own theme park – is much like any other attraction of its kind. It features costume characters, live shows and rides. However, there’s one thing that sets the park in Pennsylvania apart from its competitors.

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That’s because in April 2018 Sesame Place became the very first autism-certified theme park on the planet. In short, this accolade means the park will be able to cater to all kinds of children, including those with special needs.

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In order to achieve this goal, at least four-fifths of park staff will undergo specialist training. This will coach them in areas including motor skills and communication. Furthermore, they will also learn about emotional and sensory awareness so they can understand their guests with autism.

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The park with also ensure sensory guides are at hand onsite to help families plan their visit according to the needs of their child. To assist with this, Sesame Place boasts low-sensory spaces and quiet areas in case kids require some time out.

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Sesame Place announced the news on its Facebook page in April 2018. The post read, “It’s our goal to provide every family with an enjoyable and memorable visit. We are proud to offer specialized services to guests with autism and other special needs.”

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In order to achieve its Certified Autism Center (C.A.C.) status, Sesame Place worked with The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (I.B.C.C.E.S). And to ensure the validity the certificate, staff must retrain in autism awareness every couple of years.

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And if all that might sounds like a big commitment, you’re right. But for park president, Cathy Valeriano, being the world’s first autism-certified theme park makes all the hard work worth it. After all, visiting Sesame Place should be a fun experience for all children.

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In a statement, Valeriano said, “Sesame Place is honored to be leading the theme park industry through our commitment to making our facility friendly for families with children on the spectrum. We’re dedicated to providing all of our guests with an exceptional and memorable experience.”

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