Preparation is Key to the Kingdom
Walt Disney World is literally its own kingdom. They have their own power, police, and zip code. When you travel with an autistic child, your stress is higher than normal. Preparing, reading, and knowing all you can before leave will help alleviate your stress. You know you are going to take a backpack with toys and distractions for your child. So know what, where and how Disney works. Preparation will pay off in the end. While you are there however, pick up the information sheets at the entrance of the park. Disney can and will alter the time of shows and character appearances to meet the estimated park attendance. So while preparation is crucial; verification is key.
Touring Walt Disney World can be exhausting. You will walk on average ten miles per day. Add early mornings, late nights and over stimulating lights, sound and action. The best technique to combat the fatigue is to take mini-breaks. Mini-breaks can be anything from sitting down over a long lunch; finding a quiet patch of grass or shaded bench to relax; snoozing through a show; or going back to the house for an afternoon nap. Whatever you can do to avoid the third day wall.
Yes, they are real and they are everywhere. Hidden Mickeys are profiles of the famous mouse worked into the scenery by the Disney Imagineers. A wonderful book identifies the Mickeys and even makes it a game – look for it on Amazon. Wait times for attractions can be long even with a guest pass or fast pass. Buy the book or app and make finding the Hidden Mickeys into a game. You and your kids will love it!
Of course you will be bringing a camera. How about a camera for kids? Even your autistic child. Look into a childproof camera and allow all of your children to take pictures. You will have your photos for your family photo album. Now they can have their own photos to create their own album. Even if their photos don’t turn out the process of taking pictures will occupy their waiting time and make them feel part of the fun.
Everyone is Doing It
Meltdowns happen. And they will happen. Look around you. All the kids (and some adults) you see are destined to meltdown and have a tantrum at some point on their vacation. It is inevitable and you are not alone. Don’t worry if your autistic child looks or acts weird. Look around again. Walt Disney World is the number one destination for Make A Wish Foundation. You will not stand out. The cast members go out of their way to make your child feel special. So enjoy, relax, and smile.
You are in Florida and it will rain. Guaranteed. No one wants to carry an umbrella all day especially when you have a backpack, diaper bag and stroller. Bring ponchos. Don’t buy them there because they are expensive and everyone will become the same color and you can’t find your kids. Instead, bring some ponchos and stash them in your bag. If it is warm enough, consider the rain a cooling off opportunity. You are going to get wet on the rides so why not enjoy the brief afternoon shower. The ponchos will then keep your belongings dry.
Walt Disney World is hot. Drink water. My children wouldn’t drink the Florida water because it tasted funny. But I knew they had to drink so they wouldn’t dehydrate. Dehydration can occur very quickly. After two days of minimal water, my middle child spent the night throwing up from dehydration. I stayed with her for a morning and forced sips of water. The next two trips I came prepared. We packed in squeeze bottles and individual packets of flavoring. No one complained about the water taste again.
Budget for treats. Ice cream, Dole whips, cookies, rice crispy mouse ears are some of the delicacies that are only available at Walt Disney World. On our first two trips we didn’t purchase any of these treats due to the cost. On subsequent trips, I budgeted for a few treats and wow, was I surprised. The cookie ice cream sandwiches are a meal. Dole whips are heaven. And rice crispy mouse ears are cute. So plan accordingly and enjoy a treat you can only get in Disney.
Fireworks, Light Parades, and Evening Shows
My first two trips I was a wimp. By 8pm I just couldn’t go any further. None of us could. We dutifully filed back to our beds and passed out. The third trip opened my eyes to the wonder of the night in Disney. Plan to see whatever entertainment your park has to offer. The light parade is delightful. Fantasmic will blow your mind. Epcot’s spinning world and lasers are incredible. Plan on staying until the end.
On our first visit to Walt Disney World a wonderful cast member introduced us to the world of pin trading. At first I was yikes! they are expensive. But as the mother of an autistic child, I began to look at the experience a little differently. Here is how it works: Every cast member wears pins. They are obligated to trade one pin to each guest that asks. That’s it. So how did I look at it differently? Here was a series of excellent opportunities for my child to practice social interaction in a fun way. He had to use eye contact, please, thank you and even hand shaking during each pin trade. And he loved it! On your first day, locate the pin trading booth and buy a starter set. A starter set includes a lanyard and set of pins. That is all you need. (You may want to do this without the kids so you don’t have to buy more than the basics.) Then start trading! My daughter is 21 years old and still has her pins from her first visit twelve years ago on display in her dorm room.