When I think of theme parks, I think of fun and excitement! I think of the wind whipping through my hair and my stomach jumping into my throat while shooting down a giant drop on a rollercoaster. I think of yummy snacks and sunny weather.
I want these to be the memories my kids get to have too, but I was never certain they would be able to. I always worried that they would be overwhelmed and unable to process everything that was going on around them. I worried that waiting in lines would cause meltdowns and having to jump quickly on and off of rides would make them feel scared and want to go home. I was worried that I would have to explain our situations to multiple strangers in order to accommodate our needs.
So, imagine how happy I was when I heard that one of the biggest, most exciting theme parks was hosting an Autism Day right here in New Jersey!
As a mother of two small children with Autism, I am so incredibly grateful to the Gersh Academy & Six Flags Great Adventure for helping me have the best chance at creating those Au-some memories with my children!
As a planner and someone who knows these types of outings require much forethought, I naturally had a few questions. Jennifer Domash, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Gersh Academy was more than willing to answer them all. Here’s what she had to say about this amazing day!
You have an incredibly special day at a huge theme park coming up. That must have been a ton of work to coordinate. Tell me about the day and what went into making it happen?
Absolutely! Autism Day at Six Flags Great Adventure is the first time a park of this magnitude has literally been transformed into a sensory-friendly environment for those on the Autism spectrum. We have worked for almost a year with Six Flags – who’ve been incredible partners throughout this process, by the way – to ensure that we’re creating the right kind of environment for those on the spectrum without removing the thrills and fun of an amusement park. It has definitely been a ton of work, but it will all be worth it when we see the smiling faces!
I have two kids with autism and my family – especially the two little ones – is so excited to attend on May 3rd. What changes are being made to the park to be more accommodating to children on the autism spectrum?
We’re so excited to have you and your family at the event!
As you know, many children with Autism can get easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from the environment (noise, crowds, sights, etc.), but all kids deserve to experience the fun and thrill of a theme park! So, we’ve been working hard with Six Flags to make that happen.
We’re lowering light and music levels, creating designated decompression tents stocked with sensory-friendly items, and rating rides based on sensory and thrill level. We’ll have accommodations for anyone unable to wait in long lines and we’re even bringing in more than 100 highly trained Gersh Academy staff to assist throughout the day.
That sounds great. Usually, when a child with Autism gets overwhelmed at a place like Six Flags, the family has to leave – but it sounds like there might be ways to help them get through it and continue to enjoy the day.
100 percent. Our staff will be around the park to help anyone who gets overwhelmed – parent or child – throughout the day, and we’re providing training for Six Flags staff before the event to ensure they’re able to help as well. The decompression rooms I mentioned will also help provide an area where kids can take a moment to calm down or be in a quiet space rather than having to leave the park.
There are a few other parks we’ve seen recently doing something similar – what makes this one different?
First, I’ll say that it’s amazing that we’re seeing more awareness around Autism. We’re thrilled to see accommodations for children on the spectrum becoming more and more common.
Having said that, what’s unique about Autism Day at Six Flags is really two-fold. Number one is the scale. Six Flags Great Adventure is massive – by far the largest and most complex of the parks doing this. It’s also the first time a park has been open solely for those on the Autism spectrum.
Second is the expertise. Developing programs and opportunities for the Autism community is what Gersh Academy does year-round. We have the experience, understanding and ability to create a day where children with special needs are the norm rather than the exception – a day families can truly enjoy together. This is what we do, so we know we’re going to do it well.
Can you tell me a bit more about how you got involved and why Autism education and awareness is such an important cause for you?
I’m the VP of Marketing & Communications for Gersh Academy and all our huge undertakings including two – well, soon to be three – schools on Long Island, Puerto Rico, Indiana and Washington.
I’ve been working in marketing for my whole career, over 20 years, and it started to feel un-fulfilling. Almost 2 years ago I found Gersh Academy. One conversation with the founder and CEO, Kevin Gersh, and I knew this was where I should be. When I heard his passion, met with the children and talked with the parents, I felt that I could finally use my skills to help kids. The work this organization does is amazing, and I am so grateful to be a part of their mission to change lives.
That’s great! Anything else about Autism Day at Six Flags you want to share?
In addition to all the fun your kids will be having, this day is also about the parents. As hard as it is for children on the spectrum to enjoy a day at the park, it can be just as stressful for their families. Autism Day is going to be a day when parents and siblings can look around and know everyone else understands what it’s like to have a child or sibling on the Autism spectrum. It’s a day free of judgement, stress, or concern about whether your child fits in.
There will also be educational presentations throughout the day from well-known professionals in the autism field including: Author Dr. Stephen Shore, Blogger & Author Carrie Cariello, and Dr. Melillo, founder of Brain Balance Achievement Centers – among others!
Good luck – we’d love to see events like this become the norm and I know my family is counting down the days until May 3rd!
Tickets for Autism Day at Six Flags Great Adventure are on sale here.
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About Jennifer Domash
Jennifer Domash is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Gersh Academy, where she oversees all aspects of marketing for 15 of the company’s entities. In this role, her primary responsibilities include creating the different programs’ brand identities and executing on their strategic visions. She manages internal and external communications, public relations, media and events.
Prior to joining Gersh Academy, Jennifer spent 13 years at Macy’s, Inc. as Director of Communications and Special Projects. She then went on to work for a media agency, where she was the co-creator and producer of an award-winning app that became number one in the Apple App store. Jennifer has received numerous Webby and Telly awards for her work.
After spending most of her life in fashion, Jennifer is thrilled to have found a place where she can use her skills to change the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Megan is a stay at home mom of two au-some kids & the co-director of the Hoboken Special Needs Parents Group. Her daughter Aurora (4) attends the Pre-K ABA program at Wallace Elementary. Her son Clark is 2.5 and is receiving services through early intervention. Both children are extremely active and always keep Megan on her toes! She and her husband moved to Hoboken 2 years ago and were blown away by the help they received from the Hoboken School District. You can also find Megan in her role as the children’s ministry leader at Hoboken Grace Church.