Disney Guests with Autism
Walt Disney World is known the world over as a top notch family destination. For most guests, planning is easy and exciting. The biggest questions are what to wear and where to dine. However, for guests living with special needs, the excitement can be tempered with concerns. Crowds, noise, and change of routine can cause problems for children with autism, and trigger a meltdown caused by overstimulation.
Fortunately, Walt Disney World is well-equipped to handle a variety of guest
disabilities. The company’s guest service is legendary, and the Cast
Members (staff) are well-trained and eager to assist in any way possible.
Ready For Your Trip
Prepare your child before the trip. A Disney vacation includes an overabundance of sensory stimulation, from strange noises, lights, and colors, to large crowds. Make some trips to local places, such as malls, and monitor your child’s needs. Also, watch Disney movies and talk to the child about meeting the characters. Big stuffed characters can be intimidating, but if the child recognizes those characters, the transition may be easier. It is also helpful to make a well-organized touring plan or social story (be sure to follow it once you get there!) and turn it into a graphic display that the child can follow.
Prepare yourself prior to the trip. Speak with your child’s physician
and other specialists, and ask them for recommendations on making the trip
easier on everyone. Make sure that you are well-rested and up to the challenge.
Bring toys, games, and snacks to distract your child, and have plans in place
for making a quick exit from the parks should the child become over-stimulated.
Also get a note from the doctor that describes the disability. Though it is
not strictly necessary, it will minimize your time at Guest Relations.
Once At Disney World
When you arrive at the parks, rent a stroller or wheelchair if needed, and
then proceed directly to Guest Relations. Take both the doctor’s note
and the child with you. Due to problems that Disney has experienced with disability
fraud, is necessary for Guest Relations to see the disabled child, just to
be certain that he or she actually exists. The Cast Member at Guest Relations
will issue a pass that is appropriate to the disability and level of accommodation
that you need. If you need any sort of additional accommodation, such as a
waiting area out of the sun, be sure to ask for those accommodations as well.
With your pass in hand, you are ready to experience the parks. No matter what type of pass you are issued, it will NOT grant the ability to be immediately seated on the ride or attraction. Thus it is necessary to entertain the child during the wait. Books, games, and snacks may all be appropriate.
Be sure to get information on the rides and shows in advance. You know your child, and you know which things will entertain him and which ones may startle or terrify him. Purchasing a guidebook in advance and reading up on all of the attractions is ideal. However, if you are not able to do so, you can get a reasonable description of the rides and shows from the guide map. Ask questions of the ride attendants. Most have at least a passing familiarity with autism and related disorders, and they will be able to answer questions accurately. Do not be afraid to ask specific or pointed questions either, such as “Is this a dark ride?” or “Are there unusually loud noises involved?”
you have any doubts as to the suitability of a particular attraction for your
child, experience it yourself first. Cast Members are very understanding of
this, and will often issue a Child Swap pass which will allow one person to
preview the attraction, then the whole party to experience it together, without
needing to wait in line again.
A highly structured plan is required for a successful Walt Disney World vacation for a family with an autistic member. Also required is the flexibility to change the plan at a moment’s notice. If you find yourself without a plan, invent one on the fly, but do not leave the child standing around for a protracted time while the adults try to figure out what they are doing.
Expect small miracles. Many parents have reported that their children have made some type of developmental breakthrough while on their Disney vacation. Do not be disappointed if a breakthrough does not come, but enjoy it if it does.
Do not try to pack too much into one day. The sensory stimulation that permeates Walt Disney World can and often does lead to overload. At least for the first few days, until you see how the child will react, take a long afternoon break at the hotel or for shopping and dining in a less crowded environment. If your child is successful during the morning and evening, then you can gradually add additional hours in the parks.
Every day, hit your child’s favorite ride in the park first. This allows him to experience the ride multiple times with little to no wait, and also sets the tone and mood for a happy and successful day.
Finding The Ideal Place To Stay
Walt Disney World is full of accommodations, some of which may not be immediately
apparent. Should the child suddenly go into a meltdown, ask any available
Cast Member for the nearest quiet location. Family waiting rooms are available
at some attractions, and there are first aid stations and nursing stations
available in the parks, both of which offer some amount of solitude. A slow
ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in the Magic Kingdom or a meal
at a quiet sidewalk café in Epcot can also help to soothe the over-stimulation.
Walt Disney World is an excellent vacation destination for guests with disabilities, as well as those who are healthy. Cast Members truly go out of their way to create a magical experience for all guests. You may even find your child the recipient of special recognition from Cast Members and characters. Simply go with a plan and a lot of patience, let your child set the pace, and prepare yourself for the unexpected, and you will discover why many families with special needs return year after year to the Walt Disney World Resort.
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