Taking Your Autistic Child to Walt Disney World
Let your autistic child tell you what they want to do — it's their trip after all. There is a tendency to try to run around and do every ride. If your autistic child is scared of a ride, don't push it. Likewise, if they have a favorite ride that they want to ride over and over again, by all means let them. On one trip to Epcot, all my 7 year old autistic son wanted to do was ride the boat back and forth across the World Showcase lagoon. So we rode it for two hours stright. He loved it. Fun for your autistic child is likely to be different than fun for others in the family, so don't be afraid to split up. We have found walkie talkies work well for staying in touch and planning when and where to meet up. Also, remember, that the next time you come back your autistic child will enjoy more of the park than the time before. We are planning our third trip with my son, and he is now 9. I can't wait to see what he will enjoy this time! (Jim Cameron)
My son Michael is 12 and Autistic . I bought him a clear plastic Lanyard at Walmart ( by jewlery counter ) for about $2.00. In it I made a card with his name, my cell phone number, my mothers phone number at home, a note that he was Autistic and might wander away, along with what meds he was taking. I also put his "Special Needs" pass in the lanyard. This saved us countless ugly looks and made it easier to use the pass without taking it in /out of my pockets. While waiting in line to see Chip/Dale the Cast Member with the Character noticed his "Special Pass" and pulled us out of line asked the next lady in line if she minded waiting on a Handicapped child to go first ( She didn't) and Mike was all smiles!! Also we packed a tube of M+M minis as a reward for waiting in line for lunch etc. Hope this helps others with Autism. (Tonya)
One parent commented that if your child is on the GFCF diet they should stay at a resort with a kitchen and eat in. While you can certainly do this, you don't have to. If you make a reservation 24 hours in advance, you can call the chef and make requests for special items. They are quite familiar with the diet and can make all kinds of accommodations, including GFCF pizza, brownies, rice pasta, etc. If you bring your own breading they will also bread plain fish or chicken (in fresh oil) for you. They are EXTREMELY accomodating. If only the rest of the world were half so helpful! (Mandie Harrington)
Geraldine N writes: We have a son who is mildly autistic and will only eat certain foods. Since he is over 2 he gets a full fair airline seat. What we did was pack his bag with all his favorite foods (and saved quite a bit of money) and packed only clothes for half a week. We then took advantage of the laundry facilities and since there the big machines laundry took only an hour which we spent by the pool. Not only does it feel great to have a freshly laundered shirt but with the food gone at the end of the week we had all that extra room in his case for souviners! For those parents with "special" kids they'll understand this tip!
Mary-Ellen Marks took her 7 year old autistic son to WDW the last week of August 2001. It was a wonderful time for him and us. The Guest Assistance pass can only be obtained at Guest Relations in each park — we went to MK. We provided a letter from our son's neurologist requesting the special consideration. Each person in the party is included on the pass.
Only one CM out of dozens was not gracious about it — he made a face, looked at his watch, looked at the posted wait time (30 mins) and then grudgingly waved us through. Understand that this special consideration is not negotiable or optional by the CMs and ignore the jerks. Thank you Mr. Eisner and staff for this much appreciated special consideration!
Since you go through the Fast Pass line, we had no issues with other guests thinking we were spoiled. Not all disabilities are visible. We never abused the pass by using it for the same attraction twice in one day and never if the posted wait time was 15 minutes or less.
With regard to attractions that frighten autistic children, well, prepare to be surprised and amazed by your child! My son loved Snow White, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Great Movie Ride (I think they toned down the gunshots), Spaceship Earth, Winnie, Peter Pan, the Land, It's Tough to be a Bug, Beauty and the Beast, K. Safaris, KaliRiver Rapids. He wanted to ride Splash Mountain but my husband was afraid he'd try to jump out of the log. The one attraction that made him pee his pants was "Cranium Command"! It was so loud, and we were too close, and it has surprise lights and noises and such. The storm in the North Sea of Maelstrom bothered him, as he hates all storms. He also was terrified by Illuminations, so we didn't even try Fantasmic. Some of the "shows" like Lion King and Hunchback got mixed reviews…more boring than frightening.
I would strongly suggest several hours a day at your resort's pool, if weather permits. That will enable your child to unwind, although beware, the lifeguards do not appear to be trained to deal with special needs children and you will need to be in the pool with your child to control him/her (the guards are like drill sergeants). With regard to food, even the pickiest eater will find something to eat, unless your child is on the GFCF diet in which case, I suggest you book a "Home Away from Home" resort and eat-in.
Disney is one of my son's favorite things in life and his development advanced markedly after only that 10 day trip. We plan to visit again this year as the Annual Passes are calling to us from the safe!!
I have a few comments to make to the other parents of autistic children. Please, please, please get the Guest Assistance Pass. We used the pass and got great seating for Fantasmic and Festival of the Lion King. Also, I'd like to thank some CM's for the great help they offered. To Gilda in 'Pizza Planet', and to the many who helped when Mattie had his meltdowns. Thank-you. AmyG
Regarding La Nouba, Cirque du Soliel, Linda M writes:Our son has autism and it is very hard for him to sit still. We were worried when we went that he would get up and down and we would have to take him out. Guess what? When he got there he loved it!! It has so much action all the time. They were all over the stage and their costumes are so bright that it kept his attention. He really enjoyed it and wants to go back. It was worth the money and of course I was really glad I could relax and enjoy the show too.
Toni shares: I have an autistic son and we were in WDW in May 2001. My son's only problem was the volume of all of the attractions bothered him. He has always been a little sensitive to noise but Disney's attractions were way too loud for him. My advice is that if you have an autistic child just take along some earplugs to help them be a little more comfortable if they become more sensitive to the noise there.
I also had a little trouble with the Guest Assistance Pass. The majority of the CM were fine with it but a few acted like we were trying to get over all of the other guests. I didn't think the CM's on the attractions were as friendly as other CM's throughout the park. I think Disney might need to do a little more inservicing on autistic children with all CM's.
I just want to say that many of these ideas should apply to children with mild to moderate developmental delays as well. My children have not been diagnosed with Autism but do have moderate developmental delays. That is to say their developmental age equivilancy is more than 25% less than their calendar age. For example, my daughter is 32 months old but her development is more like that of an 18 month old. The same with my son. We travel to WDW twice per year and usually stay at a monorail hotel. We stayed at the AKL in May and found it exceedingly more difficult to get around to the parks and get back to the hotel for a mid-day break. (Deanna Principe)