Character dining is one of the most memorable activities offered at Disney resorts, but for children with autism, the experience can be stressful and overwhelming. Many autistic kids, including ours, also have sensory processing or sensory integration disorder. Simply put, they are either over- or under-sensitive to sensory input – sounds, visual stimulation, touch, even scents can be overwhelming.

We attended two character dining events during our first trip to Disney World. Our first character dining experience was the safari breakfast at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom.


Safari Breakfast at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom

It was a very calm, relatively orderly affair — maybe because it was early in the morning! Everyone enjoyed the experience, although we did learn that our little Princess has a deathly fear of Goofy. Donald got a big kiss though!

Our second character dining experience was completely the opposite. We went to Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. The theme for the evening was a party, so there was loud music, flashing lights, and lots of dancing. Our spectrum kids – Will (in the green shirt) and Patrick (in red) – are both calm and having fun before the event.

Chef Mickey's - Before Dinner

Unfortunately, by midway through the meal, both of our ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) boys were in full sensory overload. I ended up taking Will out of the restaurant just after this picture was taken so he could regroup.

As with any event, some things that most kids have a blast doing are just too much for our spectrum kids. It’s something I’ll be keeping in mind next time when I make our dining reservations. I was careful to research rides and shows to avoid sensory overload, but I didn’t think about it when it came to dining. Lessons learned!