Upon hearing the diagnosis of autism for our son, we thought that our visits to the Disney Parks in California and Florida would have to stop. We thought dealing with tantrums and meltdowns would be best handled at home rather than in public. That’s partially right, but what we didn’t realize at the time was just how much easier it would be dealing with the tantrum if a huge motivating distractor came into play.
That huge motivating distractor was Mickey Mouse.
That’s because during the throws of a transitional issue leading to a meltdown, a Disney character was always around the corner. In the majority of cases, it was Mickey Mouse appearing almost out of nowhere, waving or walking down a path. This would divert my son more often than not and make our day so much easier. While on vacation, we picked our battles and planned carefully.
In fact, when dealing with tantrums from my son alone at home, I often felt more isolated and deserted. I, when the meltdown was over, wasn’t distracted by fun stimuli to take my mind off the stress that the melt down caused. This would leave me in a state of defeat and sadness where I kept going over and over in my mind what I could have done better to prevent or reduce the severity of the meltdown. At home I felt trapped with the reel of the day playing over and over again in my mind, constantly re-evaluating myself and my actions. Most of the time, I became trapped in the aloneness and isolation. Not the case at the Disney Parks, I too, became distracted and focussed on what mattered. Best of all, there were people everywhere and always a Cast Member at hand anticipating my needs. Always.
Here’s the other thing to consider. While vacationing at the Disney Parks, I was organized and ready to handle my son’s situations, but I wasn’t stressed out in doing so because I was prepared and if a tantrum did happen, I didn’t fixate on re-evaluating myself, I picked my battles and moved on. I didn’t stay in that bubble of isolation and aloneness, instead, those huge motivating distractors helped me move forward to the more positive aspects of the day. I had, after all, all my pegs lined up for our visit, which made each and every visit unique, fun and memorable in positive ways. Best of all my son emerged with huge developmental and social gains while at the Disney Parks….these spontaneous bursts of him coming into our world made leaving extremely difficult for fear of what we would miss out on next.
Here are my tips on planning a vacation at the Disney Parks with an autistic child, based on my personal experiences with my son.
PLAN AHEAD AND STAY ON DISNEY PARKS PROPERTY
I can’t stress this enough. Planning ahead involves simply registering on any Disney Parks websites. For example by going over to Walt Disney World Resort you can plan and control every aspect of your vacation. It’s super easy and a lot of fun!
From there, you can easily book your own package with theme park tickets, dining, and accommodations (I recommend that because it ends up being more economical and convenient). You’ll be prompted to manage your entire vacation, controlling all aspects such as FastPass+ selection times, your dining reservations and entertainment times easily through My Disney Experience and MyMagic+ right there on the website.
In fact, you can get into My Disney Experience right after you’re done with booking your resort package and they’ll automatically link everything up for you. You can even share your plans with family and friends who are travelling with you. You’ll have everything you need all in one place and it’s all available on a mobile app which allows you to make amendments, track attraction wait times and even locate characters. The personalization of your profile is available too, affording you your very own page. Isn’t that great!? It’s super easy with many user friendly prompts along the way.
Staying on property has many conveniences and benefits. The minute you hook into MyMagic+ the conveniences begin. You’ll be able to book your Disney Dining reservations, your FastPass+ experiences where you can reserve your favourite attractions ahead of time, you’ll be able to personalize your innovative Disney MagicBands which unlock your Disney resort room, hold your theme park tickets, store all your Disney Dining and FastPass+ information, allow you charging privileges and free you from carrying around important identification and money. Wait, there’s more….you can store all your Disney PhotoPass photos and videos on your account, so there’s no need to drag around cameras or video cameras, just go out there and have fun. All your personalized plans and conveniences are around your wrist and if your child doesn’t want to wear his/her MagicBand, no problem, Disney has attachable MagicBand Keepers which allow you to clip the MagicBand onto yourself or your child. Whatever is best for you.
The Disney Parks have fun all year long and we find visiting during the ‘less crowded’ times also helps with our navigating the parks, as well as buying separate hard tickets into special theme park events, such as during the Christmas season for “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” and during Halloween season for “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” because the crowd is limited. I have discovered that the months of September, October, first two weeks of December, January and February have more manageable crowd levels.
That’s not all!
Even before you leave home the Disney’s Magical Express luggage tags arrive for you to place on your suitcases. Upon arrival at Orlando International Airport, no need to visit baggage claim, instead, head over to Disney’s Magical Express Check-In area and board your complimentary motor coach shuttle to your Disney resort. It’s that easy! Your luggage will follow and be placed right in your room a few hours later, ( I always pack a day bag with first afternoon essentials, such as medications, bathing suits, sunscreen, Mickey Mouse Ears etc.).
Once at your Disney resort be prepared to receive complimentary transport to and from your Disney resort and the four theme parks, two water parks and Downtown Disney. How much more convenient can that be!
One thing I try to do is stay at a Disney resort nearest the theme park we like to visit the most. It really cuts back on travel time and gives you the opportunity to whisk your child back for a quick nap or some down time. Plus, if you have your own car, Disney resort guests benefit from free parking anywhere on property.
Disney strives to provide an inclusive experience for all, regardless of ability. They have a system in place called the Disney Parks Disability Access System Service Card which provides accommodations for guests who are unable to wait in the conventional queue at a Disney attraction as a result of a disability, including a non-visible disability. We use this for our son only when necessary, as we are attempting to teach him proper conduct for waiting in lines. This card in conjunction with booking your FastPass+ attraction experiences in advance makes visiting Walt Disney World easier for you and and your child.
But here’s the best part with staying on Disney property. You’ll have Disney magic twenty-four hours a day, you’ll get to visit the parks earlier and/or later than non-Disney resort guests with Disney’s Extra Magic Hours. How great is that!
My favourite perk? Shopping and having the luxury of sending all my packages back to my Disney resort-no lugging parcels around. I just love that!
Did I mention that all Disney resorts have different budget points and all have amazing, detailed themes? The authentically replicated themes will leave you awestruck. Where do I begin?
If you need help with planning, you can even chat with someone on the Walt Disney World resort website if you like or click on the helpful link called the Disney Parks Moms Panel a comprehensive, informative planning site dealing with every aspect of travel to Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, ESPN Wide World of Sports and runDisney. These panelists are Disney enthusiasts with first hand experience and get this, they even have panelists who have experience with special needs family members. How great is that!
Stay tuned for tips for staying at Walt Disney World resort with an Autistic child….
Oh, and here’s Andrew on a character greet with Buzz Lightyear at Disney California Adventure Park. Just look at the joint attention there. It only took Buzz a mere two seconds to get that reaction from Andrew.
Priceless, unique experiences each and every time!
It’s what keeps us coming back.