Parents are taking to Facebook and online support groups to express frustration with what they say is a policy change at Kings Island that doesn’t accommodate the special needs of autistic children.
In recent years, the Mason amusement park permitted riders with disabilities to enter a ride area with a companion through an alternate entrance and ride after just a brief wait, parents say.
That changed this summer when the park began requiring disabled riders to request a boarding time – equal to a ride’s anticipated wait time for all guests in line – and return at the designated time.
The policy change presents problems for children with autism, who thrive on routine and order and have difficulty waiting, in or out of line, parents say.
Officials from Kings Island’s parent company, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., say the boarding pass policy has always been in effect but may have been inconsistently enforced at the 11 amusement parks it owns nationwide.
The only change this year is that all parks must abide by the policy, said spokeswoman Stacy Frole.
Bill Shepherd of Mason makes up to 15 excursions to Kings Island each summer with his autistic son, Gage, 20, who struggles with crippling anxiety and impulse and aggression issues. Shepherd says the boarding pass policy doesn’t work for people with autism spectrum disorders.
“Once Gage discovered he couldn’t get on, he was biting his hand, angry and lashing out,’’ he said. “He mostly hurts himself, but he scares everyone around him.”
Chad Yuskewich said his family spent nearly $300 on season passes only to find them virtually unusable under the changes. The Blue Ash dad said he found out about the policy at the family’s first visit to the park this year.
“When I told her, ‘No, we’re not getting on right now, we have to wait,’ we had a meltdown,” said Yuskewich, of his autistic daughter, Kendall, 10, who began kicking, screaming and pushing.
Frole said Cedar Fair worked with the Autism Society, a Bethesda, Md.-based advocacy organization, to develop information for parents in planning visits to Cedar Fair parks. Those tips are published online on each park’s website.
“We review our policies on a regular basis and when we see inconsistencies, we implement best practices policies,” she said. “We do our best to accommodate our guests, and that’s why we have this equal access policy in place.”
Jennifer Repella, vice president of programs with the Autism Society, said her group supports the boarding pass policy, but had no role in its implementation.
“There’s no question that many people with autism can’t wait in line, but there’s no question that a kid with AD/HD or a person with a back problem can’t wait in line. Where do you draw the line?
“We don’t want preferential treatment, we want equal access.”
The endorsement isn’t shared by all Autism Society chapters. Patty Proctor, executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati, said her chapter has received dozens of complaints from parents since Kings Island opened April 27.
That prompted the organization to issue a statement to parents on its Facebook page on May 13:
“The procedure that was used in the past regarding avoiding lines was dropped by (Kings Island). In anticipation of making a policy change, The Autism Society of America was contacted to serve in a consulting role to help the park develop new procedures to assist our families. ASA and the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati did not suggest the park system drop the previous policy and there continues to be ongoing discussion with the parks as to how to best meet the needs of all guests, including those with autism.”
(The complete statement is available at facebook.com/autismcincy)
Local parents aren’t the only ones upset with the policy.