Disney World with Autistic Kids
10 tips for making Disney magical for your autistic child:
- Bring small sensory items – a chewy, Wilbarger brush, or headphones if your child uses them. Disney can be loud and visually stimulating on a slow day. Add in large crowds and any child – with or without sensory issues – can get overwhelmed. Being able to duck into a restroom or another quiet spot for a quick brushing helped our kids deal with the sensory overload.
- Choose your character dining experiences – we went to the safari breakfast at Tusker House and loved it. The character dinner at Chef Mickey’s was too much. Had we known that the theme at Chef Mickey’s was a rock-and-roll party, we would have done something else instead. You can always call ahead and simply ask if there will be loud music, flashing lights, or any other triggers.
- Ask where the nursing rooms are – they are cool, quiet, and dimly lit – ideal for taking a sensory break! Many of them also have rocking chairs, which is great for calming down an overwhelmed child.
- Speaking of sensory breaks – plan on taking several, depending on what your children can handle. We went back to our resort for quiet time every afternoon (and missed the worst of the heat that way too). We may not have seen everything, but that just gives us one more reason to go back.
- Let your child lead – autistic children, even more than their neurotypical peers, have so little control over their daily lives. Allowing your child to decide what to do next, or where to eat lunch, or even which park to visit, may help him cope with some of the things that are out of his (and your) control.
- Look for sensory activities in the parks – is your child a sensory seeker? The teacups are better than any spinning activity my son does in OT!
- Choose a slow time – not only will there be smaller crowds and shorter lines, the cast members will be more relaxed and able to spend an extra few minutes with your child if he needs to get the seat belt “just right” or needs a little coaxing to climb into a moving ride vehicle.
- Take advantage of extended hours – the parks will be cooler, and less crowded than in the middle of the day. If your child isn’t old enough to stay up until 9 or 10 pm, go back to the resort for a mid-afternoon nap or quiet time.
- Research rides and attractions – some rides are designed for sensory overload, which might be thrilling to a neurotypical child but would send your autistic child over the edge. You’re better off skipping a ride that is questionable, rather than getting halfway through it and having your child go into meltdown. Take advantage of Disney’s Child Swap, which allows one adult to stay with non-riding children while the other rides, then go to the head of the line and experience the ride while the first parent stays with the non-riding children.
- Ask for a Guests with Disabilities pass. You will need to document your child’s disability, either with a letter from his doctor or therapist, official diagnosis paperwork, or some other proof. The pass will allow you to bypass many of the longer lines that would be difficult for your child to endure.
And most importantly, remember that your autistic child is a child first! Relax, and just have fun with him.