Planning a trip to Disneyland is stressful, add traveling with an autistic child to the mix, & it’s easy to be overwhelmed, I’d imagine. But, with a little extra planning, your Disneyland experience can be nothing short of magical. We’ve teamed up with local Southern California mom Mique, to help ensure that traveling with an autistic child to Disneyland goes as smoothly as possible.
Meet Mique (as in Mickey, like the mouse). She’s a stay at home mom of 3 (2 boys & 1 girl). Her oldest was diagnosed with autism at age 2 (he is now 10) & she is now a passionate advocate regarding autism & special needs in general. Mique blogs at 30 Handmade Days (a fabulous crafter’s log of projects to make & do) & is the co-mastermind behind the amazing handmade Queen Bee Market.
When my son was really little, I was hesitant to go to Disneyland. All the crowds, long lines and change in routine seemed like a big obstacle for a little guy with autism. But then we went, and to my surprise, he not only tolerated it, he loved it. We have spent several years celebrating our J’s birthday at the happiest place on Earth.
10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland with an Autistic Child
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Before heading to the park, talk to your child about your plans. My son loves pictures so we often make photo books to prepare him for a change in routine. Making a book for a trip to Disneyland would help prepare your child.
2. Try to avoid going around high traffic times – during Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas the park is packed. Going midweek, especially if it is your child’s first time could make a big difference. We actually prefer California Adventure because it is always less crowded than Disneyland and my son loves Pixar (win-win!).
3. If your child is on a special diet, Disneyland does have options! So instead of hauling all of your own food, do a little homework and your child can eat right along with the rest of you. TACA has a great list of GFCF restaurants and if you scroll down to Disneyland, it is all spelled out. Awesome!
4. Bring a recent picture of your child, just in case. Disneyland is BIG. Things happen. This is especially important if your child is a wanderer.
5. Bring your child’s favorite ________ (fill in the blank). For J, he loves music. So we bring his iTouch and headphones. When he starts getting overstimulated or overwhelmed, we first give him the option of that.
6. When you arrive at either Disneyland or California Adventure, go to Guest Services near the front of the park off of Main Street and request a “guest assistance card.” We have brought our son’s diagnosis paperwork but have never needed it. The pass is good for up to six people, and the child with the disability is required to be with you to use it. This pass is key to having a good experience with our son – he doesn’t do well with long lines and the pass makes it so that we can go through the wheelchair access for each ride. Some rides aren’t as well marked as others, but if you ask a cast member, they will gladly show you where to go.
* I’ve also heard of people using a lanyard with a protector on it just to make it easier to show at each ride. We will be doing that on our next trip.
7. If your child doesn’t do well in tight spaces, I would suggest you steer clear of the rides Finding Nemo & the Haunted Mansion
8. In my experience, most children with autism don’t usually do well with the following performances because they are “standing room only,” are fairly long and involve lots of loud sounds & bright flashes of light.
* World of Color
9. If you do encounter a meltdown, don’t worry (plenty of “typical” kids will also be having melt downs right along with yours). There might be people that stare, but again – don’t worry. Simply ask a cast member for the closest quiet spot and take a time out.
10. Most importantly have fun! Even with planning, things rarely go as planned – sometimes better & sometimes worse. What we love most about Disneyland & California Adventure is that we make memories every time we go.
While on our way into Disneyland a few years ago, there was a little girl on the tram that was looking at J. She whispered to her mom “Mom he’s sucking his thumb. Isn’t he too old to be doing that?”
Very honest question.
The mom handled it perfectly. Instead of shushing her daughter, the mom said, “It’s ok for him to suck his thumb. Different kids do different things.”
I LOVE that she addressed it without skipping a beat. She didn’t make us feel like J had some contagious disease that needed to be whispered about.
Please, do that with your kids. And if your kid asks a question without you knowing how to answer, address it with the person. Even if it’s a stranger. If the mom didn’t know what to say, I would’ve gladly answered for her. Open the line of communication with your kids that it’s ok to be different.
With a little preparation, Disneyland really can be the happiest place on Earth!