Traveling to Disney World and experiencing the parks are thrilling and exciting, but to a child with autism, it can be overwhelming and over stimulating causing anxiety, panic or fear. Luckily, taking a few extra planning steps can help a child enjoy Disney to the fullest.
Preparing ahead of time:
Free Planning DVD. Disney World offers a free planning DVD through their website. Order it and watch it several times before you travel. Your child can see some of the attractions, the parks, the resorts and hear the familiar music. Your child will become excited for his/her new adventure.
Watch videos on YouTube. These days YouTube is loading with videos. Look up some attractions and watch them together. This will prepare your child to know what to expect from the ride.
Plan together. Make an easy itinerary for your child to follow and have with them at the parks. Having a list/plan/visual picture schedule can help your child feel comfortable because they know what’s coming next. Let your child be part of the planning process too! Ask them, “what rides do you want to go on?”, “do you want to see characters?”, “how often do you want to swim?”, etc.
Maps – kids love maps! Order free maps from Disney ahead of time and review the maps together. Bring the maps to the parks as well too! Great distraction for standing in line!
Buy tickets ahead of time. Disney makes it really easy to buy your theme park tickets utilizing their app. The less time you spend in line the better!
At the Parks:
Never push or convince your child to ride a specific attraction that is making them nervous. My son still refuses to ride Splash Mountain! No amount of convincing is going to get him on that ride and his anxiety just kicks in to high gear. Not worth it; we just take turns! (Rider Switch here).
Take is slow! Have realistic expectations. Your experience is going to be very different from your child’s; go at their pace and allow many “mini” breaks throughout the day. Find quiet spots at the parks to just simply “chill”.
Utilize Rider Switch and FastPass+. The Rider Switch program enables you to experience an attraction while another member of your party waits with the child who does not ride. You then “swap” to enable the other party member to enjoy the attraction without having to wait in line again. When you arrive to an attraction tell a Cast Member and they will advise you how to ride.
Take a break in the afternoon to relax at your resort, nap or swim. The parks are fun and stimulating, but to some children, too much stimulation can send them over the edge and you just might miss that parade you were awaiting all day.
Focus on their interest. Sometimes as adults we get carried away with Disney and we want to bee-line it straight to Space Mountain as the gates open to Magic Kingdom. Careful, you may regret that!
What to bring to the parks:
Always bring something familiar from home for the child. This gives them the sense of routine and familiarity making the vacation a little easier.
- Plush toy
- Small blanket
- Favorite snack
- Noise canceling headphones
- Sensory brush
- Stress ball
Disability Access Card:
Disney really goes above and beyond for their guests, especially for those children on the spectrum or with sensory processing disorders. Here’s how it works:
“The Disability Access Service, “DAS” Card, is intended for Guests whose disability prevents them from waiting in a conventional queue environment. This service allows Guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction. Once a return time is issued, Guests are free to enjoy other theme park offerings such as meeting a character, grabbing a bite to eat, enjoying entertainment or even visiting another attraction until their listed return time. Return times are valid until redeemed prior to park closing. Guests may only have one active return time. As soon as an outstanding attraction return time is redeemed, Guests may receive a return time for the same or a different attraction.” Source Disneyworld.com
To receive a DAS card, you must visit Guest Relations at any theme park. Discuss your concerns and they will issue you a card for the duration of your vacation.
We’ve used this service in the past and it was great!! I visited Guest Relations at Animal Kingdom, quickly explained I needed the Disability Service for my son due to autism and with a smile the Cast Member continued to help, no questions asked! She scanned my son’s MagicBand first (if you don’t have a MagicBand, you’ll need your ticket.) Then she took his picture, then proceeded to scan the rest of our MagicBands. The whole party has to have their MagicBand or ticket scanned if they plan to ride with the child who is using this service.
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