In advance of Autism Acceptance Month (April), Discovery Cove is announcing its renewal as a Certified Autism Center™, a designation the park has proudly maintained since 2019. The first all-inclusive day resort and animal interaction park in the U.S to earn the certification from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), 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, Discovery Cove deployed IBCCES’ specialized training for staff; created sensory guides and online resources for guests; and incorporated designated quiet spaces within the park.
“We're thrilled to see the continued commitment and enthusiasm of the team at Discovery Cove to serving all guests’ needs including autistic and sensory-sensitive visitors. With the team's focus on continuous accessibility enhancements and their leadership in this industry, our programs provide long-term support and resources to ensure that all guests feel welcomed and safe during their time at Discovery Cove,” shared IBCCES board chairman, Myron Pincomb.
IBCCES has been the leader in cognitive disorder training and certification for healthcare, education, and corporate professionals around the globe for more than 20 years. IBCCES is the only global credentialing board providing travel and entertainment organizations with training and certification from subject-matter experts and autistic self-advocates, and other resources, as well as long-term support that helps them understand how to better accommodate and assist autistic or sensory-sensitive visitors and their families.
“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.”
“One special moment when I was there happened when we were all swimming with dolphins, and I had unexpected balance issues when I was in the water that day. The amazing thing that happened was that every single person there just showed me no judgment. There were no stares or talking behind my back. There was just a lending hand asking - how can we help. That open communication meant the world to me. By having that awareness and education, Discovery Cove helped an autistic adult like myself have a wonderful time and take a photo with a dolphin,” shared Dr. Kerry Magro, autistic self-advocate, public speaker and author.
Discovery Cove employees, known as Ambassadors, receive specialized training to ensure they have the requisite 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. A downloadable IBCCES Sensory Guide provides insight on how an individual with sensory processing issues may be affected by each sense for the various experiences at Discovery Cove. In addition to the park’s wide open, clear spaces which can reduce sensory overload overall, there is a designated quiet space for additional relief from sensory stimulation.
In addition to providing an appealing atmosphere for guests, Discovery Cove is an inviting workplace for those with ASD, allowing for own-pace growth, which reduces stress and pressure, and the creation of special bonds between team members and the animals.
“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 – one reason he became an annual pass holder for 25 years. Now, as an employee at Discovery Cove, O’Connor calls his position as a dolphin trainer his “dream job.” Living with ASD, he appreciates having the ability to learn at his own pace, without the added pressure of having to meet 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 that is extra special. He hopes his success encourages others to follow their dreams and inspires individuals with ASD to find a place that stimulates growth and encourages development.
An accredited park within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, Discovery Cove is a tropical oasis in the heart of Central Florida offering an all-inclusive experience where guests relax in a beautiful, outdoor environment and enjoy one-on-one, inspiring animal interactions including, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling among tropical fish and rays, hand-feeding exotic birds, and much more. With reservations required and limited capacity, the experience is one of the most exclusive in the country and appreciated for its worry-free atmosphere where guests enjoy a relaxing day where everything is taken care of. In addition to inspiring animal experiences, guests at Discovery Cove enjoy an all-inclusive offering, including a freshly prepared breakfast, lunch, and all-you-can-eat snacks throughout the day, plus unlimited gourmet coffee, ice-cold beverages and beer and wine (for guests 21 and older). Private cabanas and day beds are available for an additional charge, providing enhanced privacy and seclusion.
For more information or to make a reservation, visit DiscoveryCove.com or call 407-513-4600.
About Discovery Cove:
Discovery Cove® in Orlando is an all-inclusive day resort where guests can enjoy a one-of-a-kind opportunity to swim with dolphins, snorkel among thousands of tropical fish and rays, hand-feed exotic birds, and encounter playful otters. Relax and explore rocky lagoons surrounded by lush landscaping, tropical reefs, winding rivers and white, sandy beaches. Freshly prepared meals, snacks and beverages throughout the day and swim gear are included. Guests will experience the most exciting animal encounters the world has to offer in a breathtaking tropical atmosphere. DiscoveryCove.com
Committed to providing The Global Standard For Training and Certification in The Field of Cognitive Disorders – IBCCES provides a series of certifications that empower professionals to be leaders in their field and improve the outcomes for the individuals they serve. These programs are recognized around the world as the leading benchmark for training and certification in the areas of autism and other cognitive disorders.