• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”

Six Flags Great Escape: A-Rating for Accommodations

A few weeks ago our family drove down to Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, about a two-hour drive, for our first visit of the season AND our first visit with our youngest non-verbal son. It has been more than two years since we last visited Six Flags. Family activities with four boy’s on the spectrum is difficult at best, and can make me want to gauge my eyeballs out, pull my hair out, and just shoot me at worst.

But Thomas came home from kindergarten with a free admission coupon, so we were on the hook for at least one summertime trip. Traveling with my youngest, I was worried about the park, and lines, and crowds. However, we’d been there before and I knew that Six flags has a good disability accommodation pass allowing us to enter through the exits and avoid many wait times. Still–I was anxious as always, and with good reason he (the youngest and non-verbal) eloped, vanished in a crowd right after the very first ride that he could not go on, and had to stay outside waiting with Dad. It happens so quickly and in the blink of an eye–literally. It was terrifying!

I handed off Tom to my cousin, and ran in one direction while Hubby ran in another. I didn’t see him anywhere. Security came quickly, or at least I am told they did, personally it felt like forever! Thankfully, little guy was found before security arrived. He was up on a queue line several staircases in the air because he wanted to go on a the ride! This happened in a second when we turned to answer a question from my 6- year old!

After that, the little guy stayed strapped into his stroller right up until each ride entrance (exits) and wasn’t allowed out until we were able to enter. This is one of the reasons (among many other including sensory) that he cannot wait on the lines. He flees, gets agitated, screams, throws himself on the floor, pushes, head bangs, you name it. He has NO WORDS and limited communication. Although, we have all been learning to communication via sign language it is a slow process and his receptive language skills are limited.

So back to our experience with Six Flags accommodations, namely their disability pass–Attraction Access Pass.

We had our season passes loaded into our six flags app prior to arriving at the park, so with app in hand we proceeded through security and made our way to the turnstiles. The process of going through for the first time was simple, scan the barcode on our order, place index finger for fingerprint, and the staff member scanned a card which would be our access pass for the rest of the season. Easy–until it came it was little guy’s turn, then, not so easy. He couldn’t be taken out of his stroller–and as you see, above that was a good decision, and absolutely refused to put his finger on the fingerprint area. Hubby even tried lifting the stroller while I hold his hand and arm and try to get that little finger on the stop. That was meltdown one of the day, and once he began to scream and cry the staff directed us through the turn style into another area where they took little guy’s picture and issued him a pass that way.

I am unsure if he will need to do the fingerprint thing again because we haven’t been back yet, but I sure hope not. That simple little thing nearly railroaded our visit before it began.

I wish I could say that getting the Attraction Access Pass was a simple and easy process–perhaps it was, but it took so long that before we were able to use it on an attraction we’d been out of our car for two hours! Little guy was crying and flailing in his stroller, my 6 year old was literally climbing the walls, and the chairs, and the counters waiting at Guest Services. The line was out the door, and they had only one person working behind the counter.

When the line finally began moving and we reached the front, I explained that I was traveling with four children with autism, who have difficulty in crowds and waiting in standard queues and was requesting an access pass.

“Ok, do you have a doctor’s note on file with us?”

WAIT. WHAT???

From the Six Flags Website:

To receive an Attraction Access Pass you must have a note from a doctor. You will only need this note the first time you request an Attraction Access Pass. Your doctor should include the following information:

* Doctor’s name
* Address of the doctor’s practice (Printed stationary is OK as long as it includes the Doctor’s medical ID number)
* Phone number of doctor’s practice (Printed stationary is OK as long as it includes the Doctor’s medical ID number)
* Name of person requesting the Attraction Access Pass
* Statement indicating the guest has a disability or other qualifying impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or applicable state law that prevents the guest from waiting in a standard queue.
* Valid time period of disability (permanent or, if temporary, the valid time period the Pass is needed for)
* Doctor’s signature
* The note must NOT describe or indicate the nature of the disability.

 

We had never been asked for a doctor’s note at six flags or ANY amusement park for that matter–not Six flags the year before, Carolinas, Disney World, Universal Studios–no where. I would have been happy to provide one HAD I KNOWN of the policy change. I am acutely aware of ADA laws and they cannot ask for a doctor’s note with my children’s private medical information, and as such the parks do not require it. But Six Flags recently changed their policy (I didn’t know it) and when I explained that I never needed one before, and did not have one with me today, guest services informed me that they would give us the passes but to please bring a note back at our next visit. I agreed, but was concerned with this change as my 13 year old was taken back by this and instead and did not want to stand there and be asked for something from his doctor in order to go to six flags. He didn’t fully understand what was going on…

My two youngest were issued armbands (little guy will not tolerate it on his arm so I needed to carry it all day, which was not ideal but doable). Despite the need for the notes, which I already have in my possession and ready to give Six Flags on our next visit, the rest of the day in regard to accommodations was wonderful.

Unlike some other parks where we are given an access card in order to review ride return times, Six Flags issued the boys “immediate access” arm bands. I cannot tell you how helpful this was, and after my fist visit to an amusement park with the little guy, realize how essential it was for him to enjoy the day.

We approached the Fastpass and/or exit depending on the ride, presenting the child with his immediate access armband and was allowed immediate entry through an alternate entrance to the attraction (usually the exit). Not only did this allow the little guy to enjoy rides that he would have never been able to stand on line for, it allowed him to ride his favorites repeatedly. We had no idea how much of a “repeat rider” he would be or how difficult it would be to get him off a ride he wanted to continue to ride.

Little guy picked a handful–not even a handful–three rides that he rode repeatedly for hours. Anything that involved riding in a car, or truck, and the frog drop that brings him in the air and drops in increments. I thought it would scare him–he loved it!

Thank you Six Flags for your help, my little guy would never have been able to enjoy the park without the access bracelet. We will be returning soon and often!

As for the medical note, I will gladly provide it for the important Accommodations afforded in return. It is not a big deal, only needs to be provided (they keep it on file) once per season, and is good (already in the system) for all six flags parks. Of course, you will still need to visit Guest Services upon park entry, which hopefully will not be as crowded next time. However, plan for the extra time necessary when arriving–but even with a long wait–it is worth it to see the little guy’s smiles and giggles.

A for Accommodations.
B for ease of access due to long Guest Services line, and the additional step of bringing a medical note. This would have been a large issue had we not been given Accommodations when we arrived not knowing we needed it, but Six Flags staff were understanding and helpful and extended us the courtesy.

Next Stops:

DISNEY and UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Next Up: My Intense Fear; No, Terror to visit Disney under the (fairly) new DAS (2013 change).

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert , contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, three of which are on the autism spectrum.

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