The Best Disney World Day for Autistic Children
So, perhaps you are a parent of an autistic child, and you would love to go to Walt Disney World. The problem is that you don’t know where to start and you want an enjoyable trip for your little one. Well, here are some tips about how to have the best Disney World day for autistic children.
As an elementary principal of an autistic program, I understand the importance of meeting each child’s specific needs in order to have a fun and memorable time. Thankfully, Walt Disney World has several services to help your autistic child or anyone with cognitive disabilities. Of course, the goal is for all families to have a magical Disney vacation.
Services include advanced ticket purchase, stroller and wheelchair rentals, and strollers as wheelchairs. Additionally, there is Rider Switch, accessing attractions, break areas, companion restrooms, helpful guides, and dietary accommodations. So, let’s take a closer look at each service.
Tips for Waiting in Lines
One of the most trying, and difficult, aspects of Walt Disney World is waiting in long lines. Therefore, avoid waiting in ticket lines by purchasing tickets in advance for the best Disney World day. This helps parents and special needs children avoid one more line and especially helps to reduce anxiety.
Next, you can rent a stroller, wheelchair, or motorized scooter at Walt Disney World, if necessary. Simply head to the designated locations at the parks’ entrances or rent one from a local company.
Also, you can obtain an identifying tag at the theme parks’ Guest Relations Lobby for your stroller. Under normal circumstances, Cast Members do not allow strollers in queues. However, this tag identifies strollers as wheelchairs, so your little one can remain in the stroller throughout the lines.
If you have a party of more than two Guests, then look into using Disney’s Rider Switch program. The Rider Switch program allows you to ride an attraction while the other adult waits with your special needs child (if the child does not want to ride the attraction). Then, the adults swap places, and the first adult waits with the child while the second adult rides. All you have to do is speak with a Cast Member at each attraction.
There are several ways to access shows and rides while at Walt Disney World. Families with special needs kids should use Disability Access Service. This service is for Guests who have difficulty waiting in traditional queues due to their disabilities. Although Disability Access Service does not provide immediate access to attractions, you are given a return time, so your family can enjoy other attractions rather than wait in long lines all day.
Additional Tips for a Successful Day
If your autistic child becomes too over-stimulated, there are several places throughout the theme parks to take a break. Simply ask a Cast Member for the whereabouts of the closest location.
Additionally, companion restrooms are available at select locations. Companion restrooms are larger than traditional restrooms, which is helpful if your child needs accompaniment. However, the flushing may be loud for some children.
Indeed, each Walt Disney World attraction contains various scents, flashing lights, loud noises, and darkness. However, downloading the Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities is extremely helpful. There is also the more general Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities.
Walt Disney World accommodates most food allergies and/or dietary needs. You can make advanced requests when booking dining reservations, or request to speak with the chef or manager upon arrival at the restaurant.
Preparing for Your Visit
Properly planning for your Walt Disney World vacation makes it easier on the entire family. Remember, your trip is a marathon, not a sprint. So, it is important to pace yourself and remain patient.
First, you need to know what to expect while on your vacation. Some tips are to make a visual schedule, watch videos or live streams of the theme parks, study park location maps, designate a meeting location, and practice walking, as well as waiting in line.
Visual schedules help your autistic child know what to expect throughout the day. Include crowds, sights, sounds, and smells on the visual schedule to help with the new, Disney World routine.
Additionally, videos and live streams help autistic children prepare for their Walt Disney World experience. Allow them to become familiar with each park, as well as your Walt Disney World Resort hotel, so they will know what they will encounter.
By studying location maps, families can lay out their theme park plan. Location maps are available for all four theme parks and the two water parks.
It is important to have a meeting location in case your party becomes separated. I suggest using the most infamous location of each specific park, such as Cinderella Castle. Be sure to show your child the location as soon as you arrive, and encourage him or her to get help from a Cast Member, if necessary. It is also helpful for you to have a picture of your child on your phone.
Walt Disney World is a huge location, so it is important to practice walking and standing in line. This also helps prepare autistic children for one of the more uncomfortable truths of their Walt Disney World vacation.
Important Items to Pack
Your autistic child may require some additional items in order to have the best Disney World day. Suggestions include a safety bracelet or nametag, earplugs or headphones, a favorite device or activity, reinforcers for positive behavior, and sensory toys.
Safety bracelets or nametags provide visual identification for your child, especially if he or she is nonverbal. Include his or her name, a disability reference, important medical information, your name, a contact number, and any other important information.
As mentioned earlier, certain attractions (or even the parks in general) can be noisy. Therefore, earplugs or headphones can reduce this sensory issue.
Also, a fun device or activity keeps your autistic child occupied while in line, on transportation, or in restaurants. You are welcome to bring these items, as well as reinforcers for good behavior, in order to help your child have a good day.
A wonderful tool for autistic children is sensory toys. Stress balls or some other calming item helps with sensory overload during a busy day full of commotion.
Have a Wonderful Time!
As mentioned earlier, it is so important to plan the best Disney World day for your family. As an elementary principal, I understand the challenges associated with planning a Disney vacation with special needs children. Hopefully, these tips will help you and everyone you love have the best time on your next Walt Disney World vacation!
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