Going to Walt Disney World is the most magical vacation imaginable for a family. But let’s face it, even with neurotypical children it is stressful! The loud noises, the crowds, the lights. Add all these together and you have serious sensory overload. This is a recipe for disaster when you have a child on the spectrum. But here are a few tips to help you survive Disney World with autism.
Tips on Surviving Disney World with autism.
I will never forget the first time I took my daughter to Walt Disney World. She was almost 3 and we were so excited to experience all the magic Disney had to offer with our little girl. “A” was so into Princesses and wanted to meet each and every one of them.
I immediately began having anxiety about the long waits that I knew Disney was famous for and those thoughts of great memories became images of a total public meltdown. Mine and her’s. But I was determined to go and make sure our family enjoyed ourselves.
We went and even though we had a few hiccups we had an amazing time! Our trip was everything we dreamed of and more! We all know that Autism is a spectrum and every child is different but here are a few tips that helped us to minimize the stress and made our trip pure magic!
1. Get the Disney Disabilities Access Pass
Once we booked our trip, I quickly began researching and found Disney offered special services to those with ‘disabilities’. They call it a Disability Access Service card or pass or DAS.
This pass can be obtained at the guest services once in the park. But at Disney World parks, you only have to guests services on the first day of your trip. On the first park day, the cast member will ask you simple questions about why you need the DAS pass. Once granted, the cast member will activate the DAS pass on your child’s ticket or MagicBand. They will link your whole party to the system, so make sure you have everyone’s tickets or MagicBands. The DAS pas will be good for the rest of your vacation and is good at Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom Park, Hollywood Studios and the water parks.
The “magic pass” alleviated many of the stressors I had anticipated. The waiting for long periods of time in close proximity to strangers and in a very loud unfamiliar environment is a recipe for a meltdown.
The Disability Access Pass allows you to check-in at a ride and you are issued a return time. It basically holds your place in line without having to subject your child to the overstimulation of actually standing there. Being able to walk around or distract her with a different attraction instead of waiting in line was a lifesaver.
And my daughter felt special because her magic band had to be scanned first every time. This gave her a sense of empowerment and she was able to feel like she was in control.
2. Take Breaks often
Taking short breaks allows for the child to destress. Plus, it really helps with the overstimulation.
We always look for a quiet (and cool) corner to escape, have a snack, a drink of water and regrouped. This is much more effective for my daughter than waiting in the loud, crowded lines.
3. Pack plenty of snacks
I can’t speak for everyone but my daughter gets Hangry! She gets so hungry that she can no longer think straight.
On outings, this is so much more important because reeling her back from a meltdown is NOT fun. Especially when you have hundreds of others watching.
The great thing about Disney Parks is that they allow you to bring in your own food and drinks. But I also found that stopping and getting a pretzel or churro worked even better.
The experience of getting to eat a Disney snack along with the food we brought keeps my daughter quite happy.
And if you have neurotypical siblings they enjoy getting a Disney snack as well. Since it can get pricey to buy multiple snacks each time we have our kids share the snack! Plus, they’d end up eating way too many snacks and not eating dinner. Which is a whole other ballgame! Splitting one just works for us.
4. Make sure to rest up
I can not stress enough how important rest is. All children need rest but especially those on the spectrum. Their little bodies are working so hard processing the stimuli on a regular day, imagine the added input from Disney.
If your child is still young enough for a stroller- utilize it for naps! If your child is no longer in a stroller, go back to your room during the afternoon for a nap or even pool break. Not gonna lie- my husband and I enjoyed the naps as well.
We always choose Walt Disney World Resort hotels for this reason. Being close to the parks and having shuttle transportation made life that much easier.
5. Visit the shows
Do NOT. I repeat DO NOT underestimate the shows. The shows are amazing and can be overlooked by some but know that they are a MUST! In the heat of the day with the massive crowds and exhaustion, you can take a break and still be entertained. Air conditioning and scaled back crowds.
Granted there is still lots of sounds…….it is a show and they are entertaining though it is a more controlled noise not the chaos of the outside pavilions. And for my daughter it allows her to narrow her focus on the actors’ entertaining. She loves the shows more than I could have imagined.
Give them a try, they also have some interactive shows such as Enchanted Tales with Belle, which was an all-time favorite for my daughter AND her big brother! Plus, we all got to cool off in the A/C.
6. Don’t forget the comfort item(s)
Many kids have their favorite toy or item such as a blanket that brings them comfort. Make sure you have this, it helps to keep them grounded and reduce the anxiety. I know it can be a pain to lug something extra around all day, but it helped my daughter feel secure in a new, busy world.
My daughter has an extreme love of stuffed animals so we always allow her to pick one out and that remains with her the entire trip. That animal never leaves her side. She clings to it when needed and makes sure it has a seat at the dining table for meals.
The wait staff at Disney is amazing and even provider her stuffy with a baby seat. “A” was thrilled!!!! At times when she was feeling anxious she would hug that animal tightly or pet it for sensory input.
Make sure your child has something to comfort them, be that a stuffed animal, a hat or a blanket.
Our First trip ended up being everything we imagined and MORE! Of course, this was not without some mishaps but that is life, with or without autistic children. But trust me, following these tips will make life so much easier and help to keep meltdowns at a manageable level when at going to Disney World with a child with autism.
My entire family was able to enjoy our trip and create lasting memories. And we’ve gone many times since then – each more magical than the first!