Disney World is a wonderful place for sure, but just like any amusement park, it can also be incredibly overwhelming. This is true no matter who you are really, but it can be especially true for a person on the autism spectrum.
That said, this fact doesn’t mean a person with autism should avoid going to a Disney park completely. In fact, we think Disney World does a wonderful job of accommodating those on the autism spectrum. The trick to having a wonderful time in a Disney theme park as a person with autism is to do your research and go in prepared.
Not sure where to begin preparing yourself for visiting Disney World with autism?
The tips below are sure to help any person on the autism spectrum be completely and totally prepared to have an awesome time during their visit to Walt Disney World Resort.
Look at Menus Ahead of Time
As mentioned before, the secret to success when it comes to visiting Disney World as a person with autism is simply to research and prepare. One of the first bits of research you can and should do is have a look at the menus each restaurant offers. Get a feel for what each eatery offers and what you might like to eat. Make notes of these things so you know where to go to get a meal that is in your comfort zone.
Not seeing anything you like? Disney restaurants are incredibly accommodating, meaning you can likely find what you’re looking for if you find a restaurant with the correct ingredients on hand.
Watch Attractions Videos
You can also prepare by watching ride videos and videos about other experiences such as shows and character meals on YouTube. This will help you understand what to expect from each attraction and rule out anything that might be too overstimulating or scary and send you into sensory overload. Be sure to make a list of the things you do and do not want to do. Knowing what you’re going to experience in each attraction can really help you relax and fully enjoy your Disney vacation.
Learn about the DAS Pass
Disney’s Disability Access Service can be incredibly helpful. This is offered to those who cannot wait in the regular queues for rides due to a disability. Since many people with autism find the queues to be too loud, crowded, and overstimulating, this disability pass is often used by those with autism spectrum disorder.
The DAS pass is attached to your park ticket and allows you and up to 5 other Disney guests of your choice to get a return time for each ride you want to experience. You will then wait in a “virtual line” outside of the actual queue, removing the need to stand in a physical line. When it’s time to ride, simply scan your boarding pass and you’ll be ushered through a much shorter and more manageable queue. This can be a godsend when wait times are on the longer side.
To get a DAS pass, go to any Guest Service location and have a chat with the Guest Relation Disney cast member there. They will ask some questions about why you need the pass before giving it to you.
Avoid Peak Times
Peak days and times at Disney World parks are incredibly overwhelming. Do your best to avoid the summers and holidays when the parks are packed to the gills. It’s also a good idea to skip the busy afternoons, opting instead to go early in the morning, take an afternoon break, and return for the evening.
Carry Noise-Canceling Headphones And Bring a Stroller
One way to combat all the noise of the parks is to wear noise-canceling headphones. While these do have their disadvantages, it can be incredibly helpful to be able to “turn off” the ruckus all around you when things get too overstimulating.
Another option? Bring or rent a stroller for your autistic child to ride in when things get to be too much. Even a slightly older kid with special needs can benefit from having somewhere to hide when sensory overload kicks in.
As mentioned above, Disney World is pretty accommodating when it comes to helping people find foods they enjoy. That said, there are times when you just want to eat something familiar. Familiar foods can be especially comforting when you’re on vacation and most other things are different.
For this reason, we highly recommend that you pack your favorite snacks to munch on throughout the day. This will help ward of hangry moods, so you can fully immerse yourself in the Disney magic.
Order Meals Ahead of Time
The DAS Pass mentioned above will allow you to avoid lines for attractions, but it doesn’t help when it comes to queues for food. Instead, we recommend using the mobile order feature to order any quick-service meals ahead of time. This allows you to avoid the queue and get in and out of the noisy restaurant as quickly as possible.
Sit Near Exits when Possible
If you’re heading into a show and you’re not sure how you’re going to feel about it, sit near an exit. This gives you the option to leave if you or your autistic son or daughter become too uncomfortable and feel the need to escape.
Watch Fireworks from Afar
Fireworks are hard for people with sensory sensitivities. If you find the noise of fireworks is too much for you but you want to enjoy the spectacular shows Disney world puts on each night, consider watching the fireworks from afar.
For example, you might watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the dock at the Transportation And Ticket Center, where you have a good view across the Seven Seas Lagoon while the noise level and crowds are reduced significantly.
Schedule Decompression Days
As we’ve said several times already, the parks are busy places and can be incredibly stimulating. Try to schedule a couple of down days into your vacation so you have time to decompress and really relax.
Wear Comfortable Clothing and Shoes
Nobody likes clothes or shoes that rub, but if you have sensory sensitivities, this becomes an extra big problem. Therefore, it’s important that you wear only tried-and-true clothes and shoes that you know are comfortable for you. New clothes and shoes can wait for after your family vacation.
Get a Contact Band or Card
Maybe you don’t personally have autism but you’re traveling with someone who does. If that person is non-verbal, make sure they have a contact band or card on them at all times. This should include the contact information of their travel party, so they can be reunited should they become separated.
Don’t Forget Comfort Items and Service Animals
If you have an item that brings you comfort and helps you decompress after a long day, make sure you pack it. If you’re the parent of a child on the autism spectrum and they have a favorite lovey that they request every night, make sure you pack that.
A service animal also falls into this category. Make sure to bring your furry friend along. Disney will allow them to accompany you as long as they are an official service animal.
Comfort items and pets can be key when it comes to winding down in your resort after a busy day, and you’re going to have a lot of extra-busy days at Disney World.
Try to Keep Some Consistency
Consistency is often hard to come by when you’re on vacation, but it is also the thing that helps keep many people with autism grounded. Therefore, it is incredibly important that you squeeze in consistency wherever possible. That might mean eating the same breakfast you eat every day at home, or it might mean retaining your usual bedtime.
Whatever it is that brings you (or your child) the most comfort, hold onto that.