Prepping for Disney with Autism: Part 2

Thanks for joining us today for Part 2 of Prepping for Disney with Autism. Heather is a Guru Client and sure to check out her super cute autograph books on Etsy. Click here to read part 1.

  • Talk to people who have gone with an Autistic child. Ask them what was the worst for their child, and what was the best. Some children might love a specific ride (your child may love Small World so much, that you ride it 10 times a day), or a special character meet, or even a food they loved. My daughter loved fountains and water in general. We did not pass a bridge or fountain that she didn’t stop at. She would have stared at the water for hours. It helped calm her down, so by the middle of the week, I was pointing out fountains she may have missed.
  • Plan for down time. Even if you only have 4 days, plan for down time. Maybe it’s a mid day nap, or spending time at the pool, or a sit down meal in a quiet location. Make a plan, and regardless of whether or not your child is doing fine still, stick to the plan. Disney is pure chaos, and that sensory break is very much needed. By the end of the trip, those breaks will be the difference between a great vacation, and wishing you had never gone.
  • Check the crowd calendars online, then ask around online about how accurate they are. There are dozens of message boards dedicated to Disney fans, and you’ll find a lot of people who have gone at that time frame, and can let you know how busy it was or was not. We went in October, during a week designated to be one of the least busy times of the year. However, due to the Food & Wine Festival, and MNSSHP, October has been growing in popularity. There was also a free dining promotion. The parks were packed some days, and empty other times. But overall, it was nearly as busy as the year I went during President’s Week, which is packed.  These crowd levels will be the difference between your child enjoying the trip, and being scared the whole time. If it’s at all possible, go during the least busy time that you can. Large crowds can be confusing to NT adults. But to a child, it’s nothing but chaos. To an autistic child, it’s worse. Too many noises, colors moving all around, loud laughter, people bumping into them- it’s hard to deal with crowds when you are scared they will touch you, or that they are making loud sounds.
  • Before your trip, talk to your child about safety, and reinforce it while you are there. When we went, I had a friend make my daughter a beaded bracelet that listed my phone number, and the word Autistic. You can also purchase engraved dog tags through out all of the Disney parks to use for this same purpose. If you have a child who has a hard time remembering his or her phone number, this is a must. It alerts the person finding your child to their medical condition, and how to locate you as quickly as possible. It’s also important that your child recognize the Disney name tags. Because the uniforms differ from land to land, park to park, ride to ride, your child will need to know what to look for that differentiates another guest from an employee. It’s also important that your child knows to remain in one location as much as possible, until they are with a staff member. This will allow you to more quickly locate the child if your child is still near you.
  • There are several books available online about experiencing Disney with a disability. I never found one that covered it all, and many were very outdated. Especially with the new introduction of the DAS card taking the place of the GAC. You will likely find better information online.
  • Take your child’s particular problem areas into account when making your plan. Does he hate Chuck E Cheese? He probably won’t love meeting the costumed characters like Mickey. Is she scared of being splashed with water? Avoid rides that float with drops (IE: SplashMountain is obvious, but Pirates of the Caribbean features drops that result in a small amount of splashing). Is he terrified of fire works? Plan to be away from the park in the evening, or plan to bring noise cancelling headphones. Is she sensitive to lights? Bring sunglasses- several pairs. Allow her to wear them on rides, during the day- anywhere she feels comfortable wearing them.
  • Invest in a site that gives you daily crowd estimations per park. Touring Plans is the site I used, but I believe there are others. These sites will give you a daily break down of which parks are going to be the least crowded, and the most crowded, and which parks to avoid. Plan your week based on these, because a park that is super crowded, vs a park that feels empty is a big difference to your child. The day we enjoyed the most was when we went to Animal Kingdom, because it was pretty empty. We could get on and off most rides quickly, my daughter didn’t feel penned in by crowds, and we could just enjoy the day.
  • Make a daily plan. Whether it’s as loose as saying “We’ll be at MagicKingdom until break time, then we’ll go to Epcot at 5.”, or as tight as breaking down what order you will go on rides, make a plan. Autistic children thrive on schedule. Knowing what is coming next helps them tremendously. It helps give them a small measure of control over what is going on. Allow your child to help make decisions, but keep the entire group’s wants in mind as well. It’s not much fun for the other children when you wind up having to cater more towards what your autistic child wants to do. Trust me on that. My 17 year old was not happy with how much we had to cater to my 11 year old during the trip. Whether it was who sat with who on a ride, or what ride we were going on, or even when we left the parks. Make sure every one feels like they have a say in their vacation- including you! There was one particularly bad night, when I felt let down, and ready to give up and go home. There was one ride I wanted to go on, and I finally just said “No, we’re going on this first, and then we will go back to SpaceMountain (for the 10th ride that night).” My daughter was fine with it, and I felt a little better about how the evening was going.
  • Take your child to a crowded place– the mall before Christmas, a zoo on a free community day, something where there are a lot of people in what feels like very little space. Observe your child, what do they do, are they acting different? My daughter has done amusement parks with no issue. But Disney is on an entirely different level, and I figured if she could handle the small amusement park, the crowds at Disney would be no problem. Boy was I wrong. Make a list of what you see- are there new noises? More hand flapping? Hiding? Hand holding? Anything you might see there, you’ll probably see more severely in Disney. My daughter made sounds she’d never made before, hand flapped where she never had before (she is a rocker, not a flapper), clung to me, and was just a different child.
  • Make a list of quiet locations in the park. Shannon from WDW Guru can help with this. Park benches, out of the way places, nooks, crannies, quiet rides, hidden playgrounds. There are places through out each park that are over looked, or ignored. If your child needs a place right away, or is having a melt down, finding one of these locations near you is just necessary. Of course you can always head to your hotel, but that won’t stop an impending melt down. In those instances, you need to know of someplace near by where you can sit your child down, and let them calm down. If you are at MagicKingdom, and just need a quick break, hop on the Monorail, and head to a resort to just walk around and relax. Or ride the train in loops around the park if you need to.
  • Relax, and have fun. If your child is anything like mine, at some point, you will feel completely over whelmed. I was unprepared for who my daughter became during our trip. I finally had to leave her with my aunt and my 17 year old daughter for a night, and just go out alone. I was on edge, I wasn’t sleeping, and one night, I spent the entire night crying under a bridge at our resort because I was ready to throw the towel in, forfeit the amount I paid for our trip, and just go home. After a long email to my husband back home, I was convinced to let go of my expectations of the trip, and to take an evening off from the stress. It was a huge relief to just ditch the stress and expectations of what we would get done during the trip. It was my longest trip to date, and we did less than half of what I’ve done on other trips. Did I miss some things I wanted to do? Absolutely. But my stress levels were so much better when I just stopped picturing the perfect vacation, and started following my daughter’s cues. Her stress levels were much better, too, once I started reading her reactions, and planning ahead for them. Before that, I was too stressed out to realize what was causing every little reaction she was having. Once I did, I was able to end most of the issues before they became out of hand.
  • Expect a melt down. No matter how good things are going. We had one bad one, which ended in lots of tears over such a small issue, that I didn’t even think it was a problem- until my daughter was FaceTiming my husband at home, and huge crocodile tears were rolling down her face, and she started to get more and more red in the face as she told him about how she lost her backpack. It about broke my heart knowing that as we waited in line to go to Cinderella’s Royal Table, she just wanted to be at home, away from all of this.
  • Stick to their schedule. Is your child an early to rise, early to bed kid? Follow that. Does she eat at noon every day? Stick to it. The more his schedule is the same as at home, the easier the changes are.


Hopefully, this list will help others avoid some of the issues I had. You may find when you get home, though, that this list didn’t even come close to touching the issues you had. It’s a crap shoot. With autism, there is so much that can change from one minute to the next. You never know specifically what you are going to get. It’s unfair. Autism is unfair. Living with it is unfair. But, we do what we can to make it easier when we can. Disney really is still a magical, wonderful place to me. But, now I see it with Autistic eyes, and I know that no matter how much your child may love Disney, there are hidden issues lurking everywhere in the parks.


Good luck, and may the Force Be With You.