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Six Flags Great Adventure hosts Autism Day on May 3 - USA Today

Six Flags Great Adventure hosts Autism Day on May 3 – USA Today

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Get a first look at the new thrill ride coming to Jackson in 2018.
Courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure

People fly on the Batman ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township Saturday, April 21, 2018.

(Photo: Thomas P. Costello)

JACKSON, N.

J. — For the first time ever, Six Flags Great Adventure will be dimming its lights and quieting its music to open the park to families affected by autism.

The sights and sounds of a theme park the size of Great Adventure can be exciting for many children, but for children on the autism spectrum, it can be overwhelming, said Kevin Gersh, who partnered with Six Flags to create this first-of-its-kind event.

On May 3, the park will be operating just for people with autism and their families.

Not only is Six Flags altering its sites and sounds, but rides will come with a sensory rating system, said Gersh, founder of the Gersh Academy for Students on the Autism Spectrum, which has locations in New York, Indiana, Washington and Puerto Rico.

He had the idea while taking kids in a day camp to the Jackson-based theme park.

Gersh realized then that with a bit of pre-planning and assistance from theme park staff, “we could really set something up with the right supports in place,” he recalled.

“It was never done before, and I felt it was important,” said Gersh.

“I really enjoy doing things for the autism community that have never been done before.”

More: Massive Titanic LEGO replica built by boy with autism goes on display in Pigeon Forge

There were numerous challenges to address first.

“Just entering the park with those long lines and the noise going and the music playing, that in itself can be over stimulating,” he said. “There are little things we can do to make it more sensory friendly.

On its Autism Day, Great Adventure will turn the music down and subdue the lights. Staff have been told not to yell into the microphones in the boardwalk section of the park, he said.

There will be autism interventionists available, familiar with the challenges faced by people on the spectrum and ready to help at a moment’s notice, Gersh said. There will even be decompression centers for people who need some peace and quiet from the park‘s commotion, he said.

Autism Day will also include various presentations by high-profile professionals who specialize in spectrum disorders as well as vendors who serve the autism community.

“It’s about customizing and understanding,” he said.

 

By early April, there were already 1,800 tickets sold to the event, Gersh said.

“We have hosted several events for guests with special ne,” said park spokeswoman Kristin Fitzgerald in an email to a reporter.

“We have hosted Deaf Awareness Day for more than 20 years, and partnered with the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities to host the annual Developmental Disability Awareness Day. This is our first event dedicated to the autism community.

Admission to Autism Day is separate from regular park admission; the park is not open to the general public on May 3. Season passes will not be accepted for admission.

Tickets are $32.99 and are available at the Six Flags Great Adventure website, or schools can contact events@customeducationfoundation.

org for more information.

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