Great Wolf Lodge is Going Blue for Autism

Popular vacation destination takes first steps to become more inclusive and welcoming of individuals with autism spectrum disorder with adorable blue wolf ears

Though she can’t tell me (yet), I know my daughter adores our semi-frequent family trips to Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound.

How do I know? When we walk into the magnificent lobby with its high ceilings and rustic log cabin style décor, she grins widely and wiggles her fingers excitedly in front of her face. When she visits the resort’s on-site candy store, she stands in front of each candy bin and (without touching) happily takes stock of the contents. When we journey into the resort’s signature 84-degree indoor waterpark and strap her into a life vest, she squeals and breaks away from us at a sprint, elatedly heading toward the wave pool.

The reason I am left to interpret the feelings of my bubbly seven-year-old is because she has autism spectrum disorder and currently is nonverbal.

The wiggly fingers are what is known as stimming, or a self-stimulatory behavior that, in her case, indicates excitement when paired with a smile and frustration when presented with a frown. The cataloging of candy is her way of slowly and methodically taking in the details and textures of each piece regardless of whether or not she’s permitted to purchase any on a given day — she just enjoys the view. Her affinity for being in the water, another common autism trait, is born from the sensations she feels as it envelops her body, blissfully unaware of any risk the depth may pose.

Despite the looks from other parents in the candy shop and the gnawing anxiety we feel in the waterpark, we continue to bring our children back to Great Wolf Lodge because they love it. And so do we.

That’s why we were so excited when we heard that Great Wolf is teaming up with nonprofit Autism Speaks to “go blue” during a month-long Blue Wolf Ears fundraising campaign.

Throughout April, the resort will be offering a blue version of its signature wolf ears for a minimum $5 donation to Autism Speaks. Guests who have been to Great Wolf during one of its seasonal “Howl-a-Days” events know how coveted a unique set of ears can be. These limited-edition headbands will be even more desirable as only 10,000 were made and distributed to the brand’s 16 U.S.-based resorts.

“We’re honored to have this opportunity to give back during World Autism Month and to help raise funds for a terrific organization like Autism Speaks,” Erin Wallace, chief operating officer of Great Wolf Resorts said in a statement.

Guests who purchase the headbands will have even more opportunity to rack up funds for Autism Speaks by posting photos of their wolf pack sporting their blue ears to social media and using the hashtag #greatwolfcares. For each photo posted with this hashtag, Great Wolf will donate an additional $5, up to $20,000. Ultimately, the brand’s goal is to raise a total of $70,000.

In so doing, not only are participants helping Autism Speaks to fund programs and resources to help individuals on the autism spectrum, but by talking about autism, they are helping to spread understanding about why a person on the spectrum might act a little differently inside or outside of its waterparks.

Instead of being exasperated by how long it takes our child to go down a waterslide, we want others to understand that sometimes performing a task like this takes intense concentration to work out how to step into, sit down, and ride a slide — but eventually gets there. Instead of staring when she’s getting fussy at the dinner table, we want others to understand that after a day of play — as well as constant overwhelming auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation — our little girl is mentally and physically exhausted.

Tom Frazier, chief science officer for Autism Speaks echoes these types of issues and said Great Wolf’s adoption of the Blue Wolf Ears campaign is a great first step.

“Sensory differences, uncertainty, and social demands can make it challenging for some people with autism to participate in recreational activities, but autism-aware destinations (like Great Wolf Lodge) enable the entire family to enjoy these experiences together and make memories,” Frazier said.

Great Wolf COO Wallace said there are plans to continue the relationship with Autism Speaks and hopes to leverage that into future accommodations and programming.

“Our Blue Wolf Ears campaign is just the start of a long-term partnership with Autism Speaks,” she said. “In the future, we hope to use their expertise to help guide us as we continue to explore ways to make our resorts even more welcoming for people with autism and their families.”

For more information on this, or any other programs at the resort, visit Great Wolf Lodge online.

is the managing editor of South Sound magazine. Email her.
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