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Tips for Taking Your Child With Autism to Walt Disney World

Updated on July 26, 2012

Airplanes, Disney World and Autism - OH MY!

WDW 2011
WDW 2011

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and travel can be done with the right preparation.

From the time my twins were born (and even before), I dreamed of taking them to Walt Disney World (WDW). After all I met Snow White when I was five and it is, still to this day, my FAVORITE vacation. Fast word a number of years and I finally had my own children and I wanted to share this memory with them.

What I did not plan for was having a child who would require a little (ok a lot) of "extra" attention. A child with Autism changes your life. Change can be good or change can be bad, it's your decision. For me, I relish change and I welcome challenges!! Autism in children means change is almost impossible so we need to be organized.

My son has Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) which is on the Autism Spectrum and he also has clinical anxiety. Autism is now estimated in 1 out of every 88 children and is prevalent in boys 4 times more than girls. WHOA, you say - INDEED!

Faced with these autistic challenges; I was determined not to let them deter us from going to Disney World. Instead we used them to our advantage. We decided to prepare and plan until no stone was left unturned. That is exactly what we did!

At the time of our trip, my twins were 6 years old. We began our preparations one year prior to departure. Here are some tips I hope you find useful for travelling to WDW and beyond! Please understand, these are some of the tips that worked for us, though there are many more things you can do; but I am hoping some of these prove useful to you.

Be Prepared - Strategies We Used to Get Ready for Our Trip

1. Create a Social Story for Each Major Event: We created a specific story for flying and used real pictures from our airport's website. We also created a social story for WDW itself. As parents we forget that children have no reference to WDW as a place so I planned a social story for each park to help them understand the layout.

2. Start a Video Library: Help prepare the kids for rides, I did some research online and looked up videos of rides I knew they may want to try. I felt that by showing them ahead of time, it would alleviate the pressure of imagining what the ride would be like. YouTube has a list of the top 20 Disney rides and was a HUGE help. You can also view Space Mountain while it is lit up so that your child can get the feel of the roller-coaster and if this is something he/she would want to ride.

3. Prepare for Flight: To me this tip was the SINGLE most successful piece of our trip. My children had never flown before and were obviously VERY excited and anxious to fly. I was just anxious. How would I get my son through security? What if he won't go through the scanners? Thankfully, 6 months before we left, our local ARC teamed up with Jet Blue and put on a Wings for Autism event at the airport. It was an incredible event.

We signed up for the event as a family and on a designated day (along with 400 others) we embarked on our first test flight. We packed backpacks (bought especially for our trip) and made our way into the airport. As you can imagine, no amount of social stories can actually prepare you for the real thing. The event was AMAZING. We went to the ticket counter for our boarding passes. We went through security like it was a regular day, we boarded the plane and we even got snacks and TV. Call your airlines and see if they offer these types of events as they open up so many doors for kids like ours. Had it not been for that event, the day of our actual departure would never have gone so smoothly. They crew from Jet Blue received special training about Autism and were so patient with our kids. The absolute preparation was astounding to me. I also was amazed at what I was watching......40+ families with children on all levels of the spectrum and there were no dirty looks, there were no judgmental comments.

4. Make Arrangements with Your Airline: After experiencing the test flight. I was much more in control of my own emotions and I could anticipate the types of issues we could possibly face. So, I decided to call Jet Blue a week before our departure. I was put in touch with the operations manager who personally gave us the V.I.P. treatment. We arranged to meet when we arrived the airport. From there, he personally escorted us through the ticketing process and then delivered us to Security where they were briefed on our situation. We went through security with efficiency and grace. Once on the other side, our escort stayed with us until boarding where he then made sure we were the first ones on the plane. To so many, this would all seem trivial, but to me as a mom, it was the best part of our trip. My kids were excited not anxious!

5. Bring Documentation: Autism is a silent "disability" and each child behaves and reacts differently in certain situations, so it's good to be prepared. My son is very high functioning, but still requires MANY accommodations to be fully successful. I had his Doctor draft a letter stating what his diagnosis means and what types of issues he could face. I kept it handy in case I crossed paths with anyone who may need to see it.

6. Get Yourself a Pass: Once inside the park, immediately head to Guest Relations with your documentation from your Doctor. Here you will meet with a Cast Member who will issue you a pass (up to 6 people). This pass entitles you to enter rides through the handicap entrance or the Fast Pass entrance or the exit of many rides. It cuts down on the wait times and allows your child to experience all the Magic without the fear of crowds, etc. If your child experiences sensory related issues, having the pass will help. Many of the rides have a quiet zone that you and your family can wait until you are ready for the ride. It's generally a much quieter atmosphere.

In order for this trip to be a success, I knew I had to alleviate as many stressors as possible. Stressors can have a snowball affect which in turn can ruin a poitive experience. I know I cannot control all situations, but I live by the mantra contol what you can control and leave the rest up to fate!

In the end, to say our trip was a success is putting it mildly. WDW is such a family friendly place and a wonderful trip to take with ALL kids. I hope this helps you decide to go and you can experience all of the magic of your vacation!

Check out links below for Wings for Autism and Videos of Disney World Rides!

I also wanted to add a note about earphones or ear buds and Mp3 players or any other types of listening devices - they were a lifeline for our family. We packed them in our backpack and if the noise got to be too much, he would just pop them in and listen to his favorite music.....

Please note that though I wrote this article for children on the Autism Spectrum, many of these tips work for typical children as well including my own daughter!

Text Copyright © 2012 Lisa Davis

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    • mom4autism profile image
      Author

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you very much @jpcmc, I really appreciate your comment and glad you had a positive experience working with these kids. Sounds like you have a lot of patience which is really all you need - lol!

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Children with special needs do need special care especially on trips lke these. I got the chance to work with children with special needs and it was both difficult and enlightening. Every child had specific requirements that need to be addressed. But it gave me a better perspective ono child care as well. This is a fantastic hub no wonder you're nominated for the hub nuggets award. Good luck.

    • mom4autism profile image
      Author

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thanks @ripplemaker, I appreciate your feedback and I am glad to help any other parent or friend who has kids that may need a little extra help. I did not have any mentors for myself and vowed to somehow pass on what I learned! I also had NO CLUE about the hubnugget nom so thanks :o)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Very helpful for parents who want to bring their child to theme parks like Disney World. Thanks for putting this together.

      Congrats on your Hubnuggets nomination. Read and vote and participate this way http://pattyinglishms.hubpages.com/hub/HubNuggets-...

    • mom4autism profile image
      Author

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thanks @RoxiM. He is a great kid - just needs a little extra prep!!!! Glad you enjoyed the blog and hope you like the rest :). Happy to hear there are more and more people learning how to teach our kids - so great!!!

    • RoxiM profile image

      RoxiM 5 years ago from West Virginia

      What a great hub! I just finished my classes to get a teaching endorsement in Autism, and I can appreciate how thoroughly you prepared your child for the trip. Having taken students with autism on a field trip, I know how hard it can be to truly prepare for any kind of outing, let alone something so complex. Great job, and thanks for sharing your tips.

    • profile image

      MaureenF 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing! I will be sure to pass this along to my co-workers and the families we work with. There are so many great programs out there this is a great way to get the word out. Looking forward to more!

    • mom4autism profile image
      Author

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thanks - yes, I highly recommend calling Jet Blue prior to your trip as their customer service for all is AMAZING! Also, WDW is so appreciative of all kids and adults that you truly feel like everyone else and that can be GREAT sometimes :). Thank you for sharing!

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Excellent hub! So informative, I had no idea programs such as Jet Blue's Wings for Autism existed, what a great program! And Walt Disney World sounds like they also did a fantastic job for anyone with special requirements. Voted up and sharing! :)

    • mom4autism profile image
      Author

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      THANK YOU for the advice - will do and you are right!!!!

    • TripleAMom profile image

      TripleAMom 5 years ago from Florida

      This hub is very well done and informative. I know it will be helpful to so many others. As a therapist, I will keep it in mind to share with others. One suggestion though, you may want to spell out what PDD-NOS and ASD are. Not many laypeople have heard these terms and wouldn't know what the acronyms meant. Definitely voting up.

    • mom4autism profile image
      Author

      Lisa 5 years ago from Northeast U.S.

      Thank you. I know how much research I did to prepare and it was well worth it and it only seems right to share. I am hoping that this will help some families through the travel process and alleviate some anxiety. I know I live it, but your choice to work in the field is a blessing - thank you!!!!