Ripley’s Aquarium of The Smokies Becomes First Destination in Tennessee to Receive Certified Autism Center Designation

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has completed the process to become a Certified Autism Center, an international designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) that demonstrates the organization’s commitment to ensuring guests with autism and sensory sensitivities have the best possible experience.

“Often the roadblock isn’t the children, it’s finding businesses that are willing to adapt their operations to accommodate and meet the needs for special needs children,” says Chris O’Shea, who has a child is on the autism spectrum.

Ripley's Aquarium of the SmokiesParents with children on the autism spectrum often find choosing destinations and attractions a challenge due to sensory needs, dietary restrictions and safety concerns.  In many cases, changes or accommodations made by these locations might seem minor, but they can make a big difference to the guest experience.

By earning the Certified Autism Center designation, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has proven their commitment to serving individuals on the autism spectrum and ensuring a positive experience for all guests.

“We have worked very hard training our staff to help serve our guests who are on the spectrum. We look forward to their enjoyment of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for many years to come,” said Ryan DeSear, regional and general manager of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

As part of the Certified Autism Center requirements, Aquarium staff completed autism sensitivity and awareness training to learn how to better communicate and engage with guests with sensory needs and their family members, as well as safety concerns and protocols. In addition, Ripley’s of the Smokies has designed specialized programs for guests with autism and other sensory disorders such as a “Sensory Friendly Night,” an annual Autism Family Day and more. They are also partners of Autism Site Knoxville and Advocates for Autism.

For almost 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in autism training for healthcare, education and corporate professionals around the globe. IBCCES recognized that many families with children with special needs have limited trained travel and entertainment options and created programs specifically for those industries.

“We thoroughly enjoyed working with Ripley’s of the Smokies and admire their willingness to go above and beyond in their commitment to providing a welcoming environment for all guests. Having more certified destination options for individuals with special needs is part of the mission of IBCCES to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and other cognitive disorders,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman.

IBCCES also created, a free online resource for parents that lists certified destinations and connects families to other resources and each other. Each destination listed on the site has met Certified Autism Center (CAC) requirements.




 About Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Voted Best Aquarium in North America by USA Today and One of the Top 5 Aquariums in the USA & the World by TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice! Explore the Amazing Aquatic World Up-Close! Top Destination to See Penguins by USA Today! Experience Sleeping With the Sharks, Behind the Scenes Tours, Educational Programs, Splashing With the Stingrays, Penguin Encounter and Painting programs! Marvel at 12-foot sharks, a giant sea turtle, thousands of exotic sea creatures and playful penguins as you enjoy the Most Spectacular, State-of-the-Art Underwater Tunnels! Touch Horseshoe Crabs, Jellyfish & Stingrays! Play in the 3-Story Discovery Treehouse & Play Center! Experience a ride over Shark Lagoon on the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure! See Mermaids swimming June & July! Family Fun, Interactive, Hourly Dive/Feeding Shows and much, much more!



Delivering 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. As the only training and certification program endorsed by The Autism Society of America, one of the largest grassroots autism organizations in the world, IBCCES is committed to increasing the quality of life and services provided to individuals on the spectrum.


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