A Disney Vacation With a Child with Autism
Travel to Disney with a child with autism can be difficult. One of the most challenging feats is due to the fact that autism varies so much from child to child and the types of autism vary so what is good for one child is not helpful for another. Traveling with an autistic child requires a creative and calm parent. We are here to help, especially if you have never traveled to a Disney park before. First ignore criticism from others, every family is different and requires their own special needs. Trying to make something work because someone else has with their autistic child or friend's child could lead to disastrous results.
Below are tips for parents on how to successfully manage their child's behavior:
1 - Understand -- Before you head out on vacation take an inventory of your child’s special needs. Learning to manage your child is knowing them because your child is unique. Know your child’s sensitivities. Is it light, sound or crowds? Does your child crave sensory input? The more you identify helps with planning with times of visit and types of attractions.
2 - Adjust -- Many children with autism struggle to cope with heavy crowds and stimulation. Start small and plan to increase it over time. Disney offers such a wide variety of activities that many families take years to discover it all. A great benefit is that your family can return year after year and your child can gradually learn to expand their world in an entertaining, safe and structured environment. Even down time activities like meal time are so flexible at the Disney Parks. While many autistic children struggle with a table service restaurant meals at the parks and resorts can be modified to fit your needs with quick service meals and eating on a park bench or poolside. Start small and work up to the more structured activities.
4 – Environmental--. Safety is important. While Disney strives to create a safe environment for all, even the safest can pose a challenge for the autistic child. Be prepared. Autistic children can often wonder quietly so stay vigilant. Secure medications or potential hazards out of reach in a locked suitcase or in the room safe. Bring a travel alarm to alert you if the door is opened. Request a room away from potential hazards, especially if your child is attracted to pools or cars. Bring several familiar items from home to make the room more comfortable including favorite toys or pillows.
3 – Identify---List the possible sources of your child's behavior. Most children with autism deal with sensory input differently. Does your child over-respond or crave sensory stimulation? Most often meltdowns are a reaction to sensory overload or sensory deprivation. Know when to expect them as well, not only your child but the entire family can handle stress when not fatigued so aim to do the more challenging activities earlier in the day. Have a backup plan for meltdowns. This can be a challenge when you have other children who want to remain in the park. Prepare by learning about the parks, crowds, potential types of stimulation and it helps to have a partner incase you need to divide the party and bring in order to bring your child to a quieter location.
5 – Decrease sensory input. The Disney parks are filled with excessive stimulation, from crowds, bright lights to loud noises. Know your child and whether it’s vibrations that frighten them or loud booms then plan accordingly. Ear plugs work well with loud noises, avoid parades or watch from a distance. Fireworks can be viewed from a remote location like a hotel room or balcony or beach. Explore the potential attractions for excessive stimulation and plan accordingly, at Mouse-aid, we are here to help with questions and alternatives.
6 – Increase sensory input. A child craving sensory input will be found spinning and climbing. If you find yourself in a situation where you need him or her to calm down then try a huge bear hug or group hug. If you are in a room or in cooler weather if your child is in a stroller or wheelchair then try wrapping them in a blanket to give that sensation of touch and security. Traveling with a familiar item helps too and there are always play areas to let them run around safely for a while such as Pooh’s Thoughtful spot or Tom Sawyer’s Island.
7 - Celebrate success—A Disney vacation is challenging for your child and family. Plan to make special activities, even things like getting popcorn or a Mickey bar a celebration. Plan activities that your child loves for break time even if that is a quiet time in the room. Acknowledge and celebrate activities like making it through a short line or using a fork at dinner.
8 – Have fun---Make sure to find ways to have fun together. Some children with autism struggle to enter our world; but, Disney is filled with opportunities to help the family have fun together. Here the types of autism has an impact on how the family can have fun together and will vary from family to family. Activities can include exploring in Animal Kingdom for Dino bones or walking on the beaches at a resort, playing in one of the many activity areas or just cuddling and watching a parade from a distance. It can be hard to relate fun with autism but a vacation is your family time for the entire family.
Remember that every family is different so each family needs to design a plan around your specific needs and budget. We are here to help. Don’t forget the Guest Assistance Card (GAC) for the more difficult times and crowds. It does help to keep your activities as conventional as possible. Many children do not like to be treated different than others so keep this in mind and use the pass for longer lines. Do take advantage of smaller lines and fast pass to help normalize the family experience.
The opinions and resources provided on Mouse-aid Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.