Getting ready to visit a theme park can feel like preparing to do battle. Between the crowds and expenses, it’s easy to lose sight of the fun. When traveling with a child on the autism spectrum, parents are faced with additional considerations and challenges.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to find accommodations for your child at major theme parks in the U.S. Consider these tips when planning magical moments for your child.
Find out what you’re in for long before you arrive at your theme park destination. Research crowds so you can visit when the park isn’t at capacity. Ask other parents about their experiences and search online for reviews, especially reviews by parents of special needs kids. Call guest services and ask what they can do to make your child’s visit easier for your family. Make sure the park you choose is right for your child. If he hates rides, you’ll probably want to skip a park that consists mostly of roller coasters. If he loves animals, head to a park with wildlife attractions.
Well before your vacation, talk to your child about the park you’ll be visiting. Many kids on the autism spectrum respond well to visual learning tools. Pick up a paper map of the park or browse online to study the layout together. Let your child select attractions and shows he’d like to see. Make a game out of scheduling a general game plan, using the park map as a reference. Spend time talking about what your child should expect to see. Talk up the fun stuff, but be sure to prepare your child for things that might make him uncomfortable, such as heavy crowds and loud noises.
When you know your child’s weaknesses, you also know your child’s strengths. Play to her strengths when you plan your itinerary. If she responds well to physical activity, plan to spend a lot of time in park areas that give kids a place to run around and climb. If she prefers quiet areas and learning, visit educational areas of the park and quiet attractions that focus on teaching. Schedule activities that might be a struggle for the times of the day when you know your child is the most rested and focused and likely to cope well.
As soon as you arrive, head straight to the park’s guest relations desk. Though very few parks require it, you may want to bring a letter with your child’s diagnosis. At most parks, the guest relations department will help your family with accommodations to make the entire experience more enjoyable. At the Walt Disney World theme parks, for example, guests on the autism spectrum are given the opportunity to access rides from an alternate entrance without waiting in long lines.
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