Discovery Cove: Positive Experiences for Boys with Sensory Disorders

Guest post by Nicole Thibault

My boys and I happened to be in Orlando the day that Discovery Cove announced that it had become a Certified Autism Center. I was so excited; my husband and I had gone to Discovery Cove 15 years ago on our honeymoon, but we hadn’t take the kids yet.

Navigating Discovery Cove: Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder

My oldest son is 14 years old and on the autism spectrum. While Discovery Cove might seem like the perfect destination for all kids, especially because Discovery Cove only allows 1,300 guests per day (so no lines and lots of quiet spaces), I was still worried how my son would do during some of the activities at Discovery Cove because of his anxiety levels.

His biggest challenge is overcoming anxiety and fears, and participating in new activities can be daunting for him.

So while we were in Orlando, I decided to try Discovery Cove with my boys. My oldest is 14 and has autism, my middle son is 12 years old and typically-developing, and my youngest son is 10 years old and has Speech Apraxia and Sensory Processing Disorder.

We arrived for our day at Discovery Cove and checked in at the lobby. We all received our lanyards and our Dolphin Swim times on the card.

Lots of Food Choices a Relief for Picky Eaters

breakfast at Laguna Grill for family with boy with autism Laguna Grill
Once we were checked in, we made our way to Laguna Grill for some breakfast. All three of my boys loved the breakfast food selection and there was something for everyone. My son with autism is quite a picky eater, and even he had a full plate of food.

Getting Prepared: Wetsuit Selection and a Sensory Guide

Once we finished breakfast, the boys and I headed over to get our wetsuits for the day. We could choose a full wetsuit or a neoprene vest. My son with autism tried the wetsuit, but found it too confining, so he went back and got a vest instead.

On the way to our cabana, I was so delighted to spot this sign on the pathway, letting guests know that Discovery Cove is a Certified Autism Center, as designated by IBCCES. It also shows a Sensory Guide for each attraction, letting guests know what to expect from different parts of the Park.

An Early Animal Encounter

We were super lucky to experience an animal encounter on our day at Discovery Cove. The Animal Expert introduced us to an armadillo, told us all about how to care for her, her eating habits, and what her shell is made from. The boys were encouraged to touch her and feel her hard shell.

Off to the Aviary

After the animal encounter, we made our way to the Explorer’s Aviary. My middle son is a Bird Boy, and loves to interact with birds every chance he gets. He was thrilled to be able to get a small bowlful of fruit pieces and feed the birds in the Aviary.

Time to try out Snorkeling: Making Progress

After the Explorer’s Aviary, we made our way to the Grand Reef to try our hand at snorkeling. This is where I thought my son with autism would have the most issues. He has anxiety about swimming with fish and sea creatures, and was not sure how he would do with snorkeling.

While not everything is a huge success, he did put the mask on and get into the water. It’s progress.

Perhaps on our next trip, he will put his face in the water.

Baby steps.

My youngest son was quite brave and liked checking out the different colored fish and giant stingrays in the Reef.

The Big Payoff: The Dolpin Swim Experience

Swimming with the dolphins at Discovery CoveFinally it was time for our Dolphin Swim Experience.

Again, this activity was an unknown, and I had no idea how my son would do with being in the water with a dolphin.

I have to say, the Dolphin Trainers were AMAZING.

You could absolutely tell that they’ve been thought the autism training, as they were very sensitive to my son’s anxiety and fear.

They were calm and inviting, and patient while he worked up the courage to touch the dolphin.

Seeing his face as he conquered his fear and let the dolphin swim with him through the water brings tears to my eyes.

With every experience like this one, I know he will try more new activities and go new places.

All of my boys loved the Dolphin Interaction.

Some were more comfortable than others, but all participated and had an incredible day.

Our day at Discovery Cove was one we will not forget.

Discovery Cove was already a quiet oasis in the middle of theme-park central, but now that it’s a Certified Autism Center, it’s a must-do destination for ALL families.

If you have a child on the autism spectrum be sure to check out the list of IBCCES approved Certified Autism Centers.
Family picture of successful trip to Discovery Cove with boy with autism

Guest post by Nicole Thibault. See the original posthere.
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