By: Beth Blancher, M.A.
Travel, any travel can be stressful but add Adult ADHD in the mix and chances the stress increases. You say you are not ADHD but ADD? Well the APA has changed the diagnosis to ADHD with subtypes so yes this is for all with ADHD or Adult ADD, inattentive, hyperactive and combined type. It’s also for families who travel with them and for those who have not been diagnosed. Why is it stressful? Read along and follow these two families traveling to WDW to learn more on how ADHD can impact your Disney Vacation.
Some of the core features of the disorder include: difficulty paying attention, lack of organizational skills, overlooking details, gets bored easily and impulsive. I will present two scenarios here by making up two families so it’s easy to follow. Our first family I will call them the Cars. They will be traveling to WDW by car and have two kids. The wife is ADHD and the son. Our second family is a couple with no children, we will call them the Jetsams; they will be headed to WDW by what else?- jet. Mr. Jetsam is ADHD, the wife pays more attention to detail so it’s a good balance. The purpose is to demonstrate different types of ADHD. These are not actual families but typical scenarios from ADHD families, many of them my own.
So our families begin planning. Imagine planning your trip and your partner zones out mid topic. You may hear the uh huh…yes and get that smile; but chances are they got only half of what you were saying. Sitting down and listening to the plan is difficult; it’s boring if you have done it so many times before or they are busy thinking ahead. Mr. Jetsam loves to be in charge of their Disney vacation; he makes the reservations, both hotel and flights while Mrs. Jetsam focuses on the minor details such as packing and the seasonal events at the park, including shows etc. The Cars plan their trip as a family; everyone has an input including the children who request their favorite attractions. Mrs. Car tends to hyperfocus meaning she spends hours on the details of the trip planning every day and every minute of the day.
Now let’s start with packing. Mrs. Jetsam packs for both paying attention to the details with lists of their needs and sharing many toiletries, packing swimsuits in case they decide to swim etc. The Cars are a little different, Mrs. Car packs for their family and she allows her children to pack their own bags, they are going by car so have room for extras and they pack decorations for the room, an ice chest and of course have a DVD player for the car with other items to keep the kids occupied.
The big day arrives. The Jetsam’s have an 8:00 am flight, bags are packed and tickets lay out with car keys. They wake up late as they both were up late. Mrs. Jetsam with last minute packing for Mr. Jetsam as Mr. Jetsam was working on last minute things for work. He packs the car while she shuts down the house unplugging appliances etc. Now they are in the car and running 15 minutes late to the airport, today is a good day. To the airport Mr. Jetsam tries to remember if the heater was off, the back door locked and grabbed the itinerary off the kitchen counter. Mrs. Jetsam assures him she checked it all. What he failed to remember was to grab his wife’s carry-on with her cosmetics, toiletries and jewelry sitting on the sofa. Mrs. Jetsam is stressed watching Mr. Jetsam tap his fingers on the steering wheel at every red light. They arrive to the airport 30 minutes later than they hoped despite speeding to the airport because he failed to add rush hour traffic in the equation. He goes to check in because he forgot to check in last night. They are through security; get to the gate only to find the flight is delayed.
They both sigh, and Mr. J says he knew they would make it as she sits to catch her breath. Mr. J is still in hyper-mode and would rather have his fingernails yanked out than to sit at a gate for 20 minutes. He starts to pace, his energy is so bottled up sitting is pure torture; so he heads off for what else---caffeine. At this time she asks about her carry-on. Oh, I must have checked it with the rest of the baggage he says, (remember, ADHD people forget details).
Let’s switch now to the Cars family. They planned to leave an hour ago but also stayed up too late, woke up late and are still packing. Some ADHD adults over plan, they try to do more than possible because their time management skills are lacking having a tendency to over-think everything and plan to do too much. So now the car is half packed, packing is still going on in the house, the ice chest needs to be packed, sandwiches and snacks for the road. The kids are only half awake and Mrs. Cars, prone to distraction, is now cleaning the refrigerator. They finally get on the road over an hour later than planned and as they drive away, now stuck in the morning rush hour traffic. They discuss things they may have forgotten. Did you remember to ask the neighbor’s son to pick up the newspapers”? Mrs. Cars shuts her eyes and he already knows the answer. I’ll call them later she replies. They finally get an hour out of town and Mr. Car starts talking to the kids as they all anticipate their first visit to Blizzard Beach. Mrs. Car sighs she realizes she packed everyone’s swimsuit but her own. They still need ice for the ice chest and make their first stop just 50 miles from home. Despite the snacks she packed they purchase more snacks for the car. It’s the impulsive nature of the ADHD. Now they are two hours behind schedule but hope to make up some time because they have sandwiches packed for lunch. When they reach the Florida line the kids are getting bored and restless. Mrs. Cars reaches for the sandwiches and realizes she forgot to label them and her son (he’s ADHD too) has just taken a bite out of his sister’s sandwich who refuses to eat anything with mayonnaise or worse a sandwich with brother cooties. Mrs. Car’s tolerance for her son’s impulsiveness is at an all time low. They still have eight more hours on the road and the car is filled with loads of boredom and “are we there yet”. The son is hyper-focused and wants to watch the same DVD over and over so with another 400 miles to go there are tears and frustration and all wish they were already there.
Both families eventually get to Walt Disney World, nearly the same time because Mr. J, being impulsive, neglected to notice the 5 hour layover in Atlanta when he booked the tickets and of course forgot to register for magical express. When both families check in one family left the reservation number on the kitchen counter while the other ADHD family transposed the numbers. Most often it’s not a problem and of course neither family checked in online. All are anxious to head to the park, one family still has to purchase tickets (yes that fell through the planning cracks too) while the other family has tickets only they are packed in their suitcase which is still with magical express. It will be tomorrow before either family heads to the park.
Mrs. Jetsam is not surprised when magical express delivers their luggage and her carryon is missing. She hopes Mr. J left it at home and not on the curb or parking lot at the airport. She has no car and heads to the resort gift shop trying to find replacement cosmetics and toiletries. She worries about her jewelry in the bag and tries to remember what else could be missing. She can’t find what she needs at the gift shop and they end up catching a cab to the nearest drug store. Meanwhile, as the Cars settle into their room Mr. Car asks for the laptop cables and chargers. They too run out to walmart to purchase a new laptop, camera and cell phone charger and Mrs. Car finds a swimsuit. Both families make it back near bedtime and neither has had the time to enjoy the resort that first evening as they had hoped.
The next day, both families head to the Magic Kingdom. Mrs. Cars, who over plans, has an itinerary and the family follows their traditional pattern through the park. The Jetsam’s go through the park without a plan doing whatever seems enticing as they walk through the park. The Cars head for the Pirates of the Caribbean and then circle around to get a Fast Pass (FP) for Big Thunder and ride Splash Mountain. After head to the Haunted Mansion, skipping the Hall of Presidents, this family can’t sit still that long, they make their way to Fantasyland. Mrs. Cars had planned to have lunch at Pecos Bills but that’s too far away now so they skip Fantasyland and head to tomorrowland for Cosmic Rays. Oh yes and they are clear on the other side of the park now as their Fast Passes (FP) are about to expire.
The Jetsam’s on the other hand are getting very little done. Mr. J is in no mood to stand in a long line and can’t imagine waiting for a FP so they skip that as well. They head toward Tomorrowland, skipping, Laugh Floor because Mr. J says he sat too long yesterday, skipping Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain because of the lines. They end up in Fantasyland and Mr. J is still looking for a shorter line, Philharmagic is out again too much sitting and It’s a Small World is just not where he wants to start his trip. They make it to the Haunted Mansion where the line is reasonable and after the ride decides it’s time for lunch. Fortunately Peco’s Bill is perfect so they stop for lunch. While it would have been ideal to get the FP for Splash Mountain or Big Thunder, lunch is more important. After lunch they head to The Pirates of the Caribbean where the line always moves fast and before you know it they have made an entire circle around the park, rode two rides and have not obtained a FP which would be ideal to help Mr J’s intolerance of long lines. Instead they spend more time walking from ride to ride looking for shorter lines.
So the families make it through the day dealing with spouses or children that zone out when telling them where you are going and when you will come back. Distractibility when they are headed to a ride, meeting place or returning for a FP get distracted and forget to meet or return. They overlook details and have trouble sitting still and get bored easy. Many head for the intense rides and skip rides that are slower or have a slower queue. Some talk nonstop; blurt out things during shows or other inappropriate times without thinking. They lose things from temper to tickets. They tend to procrastinate and are chronically late and their moods can swing easily or they get irritable with minor infractions or setbacks. They are the family who is in and out of the line, forget their flash on or hold up a line trying to find their ticket.
So what’s the solution? Plan accordingly. If you or someone you know has ADHD the best thing to do is to work on organization skills, be aware of inattention, if it’s someone you know make sure they are attending the conversation when talking or planning, make checklists, allow extra time and more. Be aware of your weaknesses or if it’s someone you are traveling with offer to take over tasks that need special attention, repeat times or meeting places and help keep them on task. One of the best solutions to traveling with an ADHD adult is to keep a sense of humor. Take time to laugh at yourself, keep it light and have fun. Symptoms vary from with circumstances and individuals. Below are some of the behaviors you may experience when traveling with adult ADHD when traveling. If you have more questions or helpful hits join us at Mouse-aid.org in our discussion forum.
- “zoning out” without realizing it, even in the middle of a making vacation plans.
- extreme distractibility; wandering attention makes it hard to stay in line or on task.
- difficulty paying attention or focusing, when reading or listening to others including quiet attractions, the person who walks in front of scooters or strollers.
- struggling to complete tasks, even ones that seem simple, picking up a family order at a quick service or packing the car.
- tendency to overlook details, leading to errors most noticeable when making airline and hotels reservations.
- poor listening skills; hard time remembering conversations and following directions.
- feelings of inner restlessness, agitation- difficulty waiting in lines.
- tendency to take risks tends to love the thrill rides.
- getting bored easily tends to skip things that are not as intense.
- racing thoughts, many times spills over into conversations and sentences are left unfinished
- trouble sitting still; constant fidgeting again lines are challenging or shows like the Hall of Presidents or waiting for a parade or the bus for Magical Express.
- craving for excitement, seeking the thrill rides.
- talking excessively, talks in shows, may be the loud one on the bus.
- doing a million things at once, playing on the cell phone in line or a quiet attraction, fooling with the camera.
- sense of underachievement, even at Disney feels they didn’t see or do enough in a day/visit.
- doesn’t deal well with frustration, e.g., a ride breaks down or waiting for dinner reservations.
- easily flustered and stressed out with lines or other delays or incidents
- irritability or mood swings, even things like heat, rain lines more often ADHD adults snap.
- trouble staying motivated can disappoint others if plans fall through or even motivated to pack early etc.
- hypersensitivity to criticism can often fuel meltdowns.
- short, often explosive, temper fueled by travel stress.
- low self-esteem and sense of insecurity, needs to be reassured with plans or decisions.
- frequently interrupt others or talk over them including people in line to check in or at stores may break a line for a “simple question”.
- have poor self-control for example eating a Mickey Bar right before dinner or leave others behind in the morning.
- blurt out thoughts that are rude or inappropriate without thinking in lines or attractions.
- have addictive tendencies which can be as simple as pin or vinylmation collection to excess or a food or alcohol addiction.
- act recklessly or spontaneously without regard for consequences climbing on things or reaching out in attractions.
- have trouble behaving in socially appropriate ways (such as sitting still during a long meeting)
- poor organizational skills will pack the camera and not the charger, forget to charge the camera, bring too much into the parks, vacations out of the suitcase that has this rummaged through look.
- tendency to procrastinate especially at WDW with things like shopping. They may want to purchase things later only to have difficulty finding it.
- trouble starting and finishing projects, plan things or forget to include things in travel plans then never get that scrapbook finished when they return home.
- chronic lateness, wake up late because they stay up too early, frequently late when meeting others or for reservations.
- frequently forgetting appointments, commitments, and deadlines including forgetting to use those Fast Passes.
- constantly losing or misplacing things (keys, wallet, phone, park tickets, photopass etc.)
- underestimating the time it will take you to complete tasks, over plans for the day or is have a reservation or plans to meet others they tend to try to squeeze in that last ride forgetting the time required for the line.