Disney Minnie Mouse

Preparing for a trip to Disney with an autistic child

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Hi, my name is also Jade and I am delighted to guest post here on Mummies Waiting for the other Jade.  Mummies waiting is full of great tips and planners to help you get ready for a trip to Disney. I blog over at The Autism Page where I share information and resources related to autism.  My two boys are 5 & 3, my eldest is autistic and non-verbal.  My post today looks at tips for visiting Disney with children who have additional needs.

I haven’t been to Disney since I was a child.  I love that my boys are at a point in their lives they can enjoy the magic of Disney. Whilst they are not that keen on the older films Zootropolis, Frozen and Moana are the current favourites.  We even had a morning at the cinema over the weekend to watch Ralph Breaks the Internet.  I really want to take my kids to Disneyland (probably Paris) because it really is somewhere every child should experience. 

New places can be really difficult for young children and any theme park can be overwhelming for a number of reasons.  For some autistic children planning is vital. My son he needs to learn about a new place and process the information over time before going. As he is non verbal we need lots of visual supports such as pictures and videos.  For others they will really struggle with all of the sensory triggers – crowds of people, bright lights and lots of noise.  Queueing can be a significant problem, causing high anxiety levels. So for a parent of children with additional needs preparation time and planning is essential to help the visit go well.

So I have asked some of my wonderful friends from the Bristol Autism Network and the SEND Bloggers group who have been to Disney for their top tips for visiting Disney with an autistic child to help me prepare for a trip in the hopefully not too distant future.

Top Tips for visiting Disney with an autistic child:

‘Disneyland Paris. Top tip is to get the queue jumping pass for disabled children. You have to get it at guest services and when we went, there was only one person serving and we queued for 45 minutes.  However, once we had it, it meant the whole family could jump the queues for the rides, but also, much more importantly in some ways, for the restaurants.  So when your child is tired and hungry and a meltdown seems imminent, look for the disabled sign at the till, show the pass and save the situation.  The staff in general were brilliant and most speak good English but I would advise learning the French for “My child is autistic”. I had a French friend translate a little card explaining about autism, which we used a few times.’

‘We visited Disneyland Paris last year and for us getting the access pass was the key as it meant we could avoid the long queues. Definitely would have struggles without it! Ear defenders were a must too! Very careful planning and not spending all day in the park helped too, a few hours at a time seemed to work best for my son. (hand stamped, stayed in Centre Parcs nearby)’

‘Disneyland Paris –The main thing for me was that we stayed off site and if we were to go back we’d stay as close as possible. If you stay actually onsite you can get into the park before it officially opens so it’s much quieter. Wherever you stay, the day is LONG, so being able to escape to rest and recharge for a while is a real advantage.’

‘Disneyland Paris.  The ride pass was a life saver. I would advise going to the guest services just inside Disney studios, rather than the main park.  Only one family in front of us, very quick and friendly. I would also warn about the very tight security arrangements everywhere in Paris. My son had a panic attack at every security scanner (like being at an airport).’

‘We have just got back from our holiday over half-tem and it was Amazing!!! It’s our first non camping holiday ever and the first time abroad with the boys (both autistic). I booked through Disney but we stayed in the Centre Parcs (7 minute drive down the road and it was fantastic!).  Take documents to access a green pass, which means very little queueing.  The passes also give you access to special disabled viewing areas for the shows and parades which made a big difference for us.  The staff are remarkable, seriously outstanding, they can not do enough for you and seam very aware of the special needs of someone with autism.  Take food and drink! In the park it is expensive and unless your in the (even more expensive) restaurants, not great.  There are not enough toilets so keep checking who needs the loo. Do not over plan, just go with the flow and relax. Take your own costumes as they are incredibly expensive on site. If you have a master card you can book (no charge just show the card) priority seating at the Micky Magic Show in the studios. When your getting your green pass ask the staff member to mark the disabled viewing areas for various shows and parades on your map (they are roped off areas so in busy crowds can be hard to find). Phew that’s a lot! I would recommend it to anyone with special needs.’

‘This is a tricky one…Disney really didn’t work at all for our girl (Florida and DLP) but it will be so individual and depend on the child! But I think my top tip would be lots of visuals – print off the maps in advance and look at the lists of rides to prepare them for what they might like to try. YouTube POV run throughs are also a great idea x’ – Steph’s Two Girls Blog

‘As Steph said very difficult, as each individual child is different, for us Tyrus absolutely adores DLP, and will stand in queues with everybody else, he usually avoids loud music and crowds but for some reasons he doesn’t seem bothered at all at DLP’ – Big Family Organised Chaos Blog

‘The lack of toilet facilities and long queues was a problem, so be prepared and make sure you plan toilet breaks and have checked where they are on the map’

‘Having visited both Florida and Paris with my son we found our son liked Paris more as he could see both parks and walk to either of them. We created a visual diary for our holiday to Florida letting him know what we would be doing each day and where we had a meal booked to eat. We find Florida easier eating wise as they have a fridge in the room and we could keep milk in there for breakfast.  Paris is uht milk which he just won’t eat so we have to stay in a hotel that had them for breakfast.  The club level rooms in Paris is good for this for us.  Our son uses his iPad if the crowds get to busy.  I know Florida was good for WiFi in the parks I can’t remember what Paris was like’

‘I went to Disney World and loved it!!!! Top tips are- take lots of drinks, rest as much as you can you won’t fit it all in so make a list of you top picks for each park.  Carry snacks. Get a DAS pass from guest services at Epcot just by the bus station – this is the smallest like and once it’s sorted it’s done. Make the most of fast passes use the DAS wisely and really plan your day. ‘

‘Getting a disabled adapted room, these link to normal room to. Means you can also still be with your other family members.’

Disney Play

Book with a provider who understand Autism and what adaptations you may need. Orlando Vacations are always on hand to assist you in planning your magical vacation. They specialise in Universal Studios, Sea World and of course Walt Disney World and have plenty of articles and information on visiting each destination as an autistic person. The company has also set up Orlando Vacation Home Rentals which are prepared for families with an autisic child at no extra charge. They care about your magical vacation. Orlando Vacation offers specials, discounts, customised plans on hotels and theme park tickets that your dream Orlando Vacation includes. You can call them on 1-800-641-4008 for planning assistance. Their website is a wealth of information and can help you get your head around disability passes, spaces to take a time out and has plenty of tips for making the most out of your magical adventure.

6 top tips for an orlando vacation

‘If going to Orlando: 1. Pace yourself, if travelling from the UK you will probably have 2 weeks on holiday, many of the US Disney guests have max 4/5 days. You don’t have to do everything in one day – and to be honest you can’t. We quite often would alternate days so arrive early one morning to get in and do rides wanted to do before the crowds and heat then another day go late to watch the fireworks.

2. Disney have lots of quiet areas and the cast members are really aware of invisible disabilities so are pretty accommodating.  There is a map you can get that shows all the quiet areas know where they are as you don’t know when you will need to use them.

3. Water, take bottles and refill, it depends what the rule is at the time but many of the eateries will give you free ice cold water but there are also water fountains everywhere (although the water does taste a bit different).

4. On your first day go to guest services in any one of the parks, as for a special assistance pass (aka the queue jump pass). When we last used this it was a godsend. It works with the Disney fastness app – that everyone can use but allows you to book a time to return to a ride so you don’t have to hang about and queue.  This pass will last for the whole time you are there.

5. If you can stay in a villa it gives you space and downtime away from the hustle and bustle. Disney do have suites and some really great accommodation as part of the Disney vacation club which can give you more space.

6. Cast members are very accommodating with food options, you can be very fussy – pasta plain no sauce – just ask and they will usually agree. You can get menus online for all the restaurants so you can plan before you get there too. We do that a lot’ – The Smudge Family (Youtube channel)

Some great advice, it makes such a difference when you can prepare and have great tips from others who have already been.  Right I have started my Disney saving fund and I am off to plan my trip!!!

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