There's lots to see and do at Dollywood, one of the most popular theme parks and tourist destinations in the U.S. But some visitors can find themselves overwhelmed with the sensory overload of large crowds and loud sounds that permeate the Pigeon Forge, Tenn. theme park.
In 2016, Dollywood opened a calming room on the front side of the DreamSong Theater for children with autism and their families. The room, which provides a quiet, relaxing environment, is the first of its kind within a theme park. It includes calming colors, weighted blankets, a rocking chair, sensory items and more.
Dollywood safety manager Judy Toth told People that the room, which was created with input from Autism Speaks, has been a safe haven for over 450 families.
"We've had some amazing stories and some wonderful crying sessions. When a family doesn't know about the room, and then we find out their child [has autism] and we share that information, it's pretty incredible to see their face," Toth told People. . "Because it's not a break room, it's not just for the child, but it's for the parents because they need that to get away from people judging them."
Tennessee mom Ashleigh Cathcart told People said the room made an incredible difference when she visited Dollywood with her 5-year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum.
"As a parent of a child with special needs ... you want your child to be able to experience things that typical children get to experience and you want to do everything you can to make those experiences as enjoyable as possible," Cathcart said. "Dollywood's accommodations for children with special needs speaks volumes to parents walking this path."
Dolly Parton opened Dollywood in 1986. The beloved theme park features a replica of the singer's childhood home and the world's fastest roller coaster.