Navigating a theme park with a child who is on the autism spectrum or with other challenging needs can be stressful. You are torn between staying home and avoiding the inevitable meltdowns or seeing the joy on your childs face- your child’s happiness wins out every time. Disney with its lights, sounds, and crowds is right at the top of the stress scale for autism mommas like me. Every day is an adventure with my little Mini! But the good thing is that you can manage it bravely and beautiful with a good time had by all if you keep a few things in mind.
Tips for Visiting Magic Kingdom with Kids on the Autism Spectrum
- Talk about it in advance- Most kids on the spectrum do not enjoy surprises. Download and print a map, check out the website with your child, and talk about what to expect, get them as familiar with the park as you can before going to help them feel a little more comfortable in what can be an overwhelming setting. Go ahead and order a free Planning DVD.
- Don’t try to do it all- There is no benefit to trying to cram in everything into one already sensory overloaded day. If you can spread your vacation over a couple days and manage one or to areas of the park each day. Check out the map ahead of time and get a game plan going, likely there will be some rides you can rule out due to height restrictions, or because it is not a good fit for your child (more on which rides you might want to avoid later).
- Take advantage of the Disability Access Service Card– This will allow your party to return to the ride at a specified time and wait in a quicker queue than the traditional line. DAS works similarly to FastPass but is not quite the same and can be used in conjunction with the FastPass. DAS cards cannot be arranged prior to your visit. For the Magic Kingdom head to city hall as soon as you enter, a cast member can assist you with planning your day and setting up your first ride time slot.
- Use rider switch- Disney has a fantastic program in place for parents with children who can’t ride for whatever reason for the parents would still enjoy a turn but can't leave little ones unattended. One parent rides while the other waits with non-riders, this parent notifies the cast member at the beginning of the line that they wish to use rider switch and are given a lanyard that they will hand off to parent two for their turn. Parent two is able to move ahead to a shorter wait line for their turn as parent one sits with non riders. Select rides offer this service.
- Find quiet spots to rest and regroup– This will benefit everyone! Even though Florida is insanely hot through most of the year. Disney has many beautiful shaded spots with benches, water features, etc.. Where you can stop have a drink to cool down and reset before going on.
- Keep them full and hydrated- Disney is full of delicious treats and full meals, they accommodate many diet restrictions and offer a wide variety of snack carts and restaurants to choose from. Keeping your child well hydrated in the Florida heat can help hold
- Keep hands busy while waiting in line- Even with the shorter qeues the waiting might still be hard for your child, keep their hands busy with light snacks you pack in your bag, play “I spy”, or use a phone or tablet. One of our favorite things to do in line was to hunt for Pokemon (there are a ton of Pokemon and Poke Stops throughout the Magic Kingdom).
- Avoid rides that might stress your child- Each child is very different, in or out of the spectrum. But if your child does not like loud sounds, flashing lights, and other extreme sensory conditions you may wish to avoid some of the rides altogether.- Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, 7 D Minetrain and a few others- do your homework, you know your child best.
- Pack some snacks- Not only will this save you some money but if your child has diet restrictions, sensory processing, or is just a picky eater you may choose to bring along some snacks for them if you are worried about them not wanting to eat anything in the park. Disney allows unopened snacks like crackers, cookies, bottled water, etc..
Enjoy your magical day with your little mouse!!!