Learn How to Enjoy the Disney Parks with Autism and Cognitive Disabilities
Disney Parks are welcoming of all types of guests, including those with autism and cognitive disabilities. Cognitive disabilities include things like adhd, sensory processing disorder, and more. I know first hand how stressful it is to travel with an autistic child, but after years of practice, I’ve developed quite a few tips and tricks. And I’m here to share them all with you!
The most important thing to remember is that you’re on vacation. EVERYONE deserves to enjoy a relaxing, fun-filled vacation. And it’s certainly alright to ask for help, whether it be in the planning stages or the actual vacation itself. As a travel agent, I strive to provide stress-free planning for anxiety-free vacations! Keep reading for more information!
Wherever you choose to vacation, you should always plan ahead. Advanced planning can be done as in-depth as you want, as your loved one needs. But more than anything, you’ll want to be prepared! The first steps to preparing for your vacation involve just booking the trip! Once you know where you’re staying, for how long, when, etc., you can start looking up videos on YouTube that describe your resort. You can also watch ride videos, airplane videos, airport videos, and more! Some people with autism and cognitive disabilities experience less anxiety when they can see what will be happening.
Because of this, consider writing social stories for complicated situations. A social story is a narrative story that uses pictures to illustrate situations and how to handle them. You can write as many short social stories as you feel necessary, and ask your loved one with autism or cognitive disabilities to help you write them.
For autistic people also experiencing anxiety, I’ve found it helpful to print itinerary cards for each day. Someone dealing with anxiety can easily access their itinerary cards and know what will happen next. For some cognitive disabilities, you may even want to make a visual schedule.
You’ll want to practice waiting. Even with the DAS pass, you may have to wait in some sort of line, be it security, food, or even a short wait at it’s a small world. Some things to work on with cognitive disabilities include personal space, standing still, etc. Consider ways to make waiting fun and distracting, rather than a chore. And, of course, social stories can be made for these scenarios!
ELOPEMENT AND SAFETY PLANS
There’s nothing extraordinary about autistic and cognitive disabilities that makes them prone to elopement, and anyone can get lost and/or separated. But you will want to have a plan, just in case. You can download the Disneyland App or Walt Disney World App and look over the maps. Then, pick a place for everyone to meet should anyone become separated. Be sure to tell guests, especially those with autism and cognitive disabilities, to look for a cast member wearing a nametag to get help. Consider getting a ROAD iD identification bracelet or SafetyTat, a temporary tattoo, with the all the necessary information. Like name, disability, contact information, and more.
Disability Access Service
For guests who cannot wait in a traditional line, Disney Parks offer the Disability Access Service. You will not go straight to the front of the line, but you will receive a return time. This allows you the opportunity to “wait in line” while you do other things, like ride another ride, or grab a snack, or even just sit and rest. Read more about this service and how to qualify!
Your Disney Parks Vacation Has Started, Now What?
You made it! YAY! You’re on vacation! You brought all the social stories and itineraries and you’re ready to go. Once you enter the parks, you might head to your meeting spot, so that everyone knows exactly where it is. And make sure to point out cast members, especially the nametags.
Some other items to consider packing for someone with autism and cognitive disabilities include sensory objects. Disney Parks can be noisy, crowded, hot, and overstimulating. There are also some situations with flashing lights. Consider packing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs and fidget toys. You may also want to bring iPads, tablets, or phones to easily distract, especially when waiting. Download some games, like HeadsUp, that everyone can play! Make sure to also download the Disney Play app, too, and find interactive games to play in lines and around the park.
And know where you can go to find respite! There are plenty of areas in the Disney Parks where you can go for some quiet, less stimulating areas. You might even consider some nice, quiet, air conditioned nap spots, too!
What Comes Next?
Once you’ve enjoyed your first amazing vacation, you’ll be a bonafide vacation expert, and you and your family with autism and cognitive disabilities will have enjoyed all the Disney Parks have to offer. No matter where you or your family member falls on the spectrum, Disney Parks will go above and beyond to make sure you are safe and welcome. Consider teaming up with an experienced travel agent, like me, to guide you to all the tips and tricks for everyone to enjoy their vacation. And not only am I experienced in travel planning with autistic people and people with cognitive disabilities, I am also someone who lives with a food allergy, so if that also applies, I’ve got your back! Not to mention you get all of my knowledge for free when you book your travel package through me!