Experiencing The Magic, Not The Meltdown: Visiting Walt Disney World With A Child On The Autism Spectrum
Anyone with a child or family member on the Autism Spectrum knows that routine and controlling outside stimulation is important. Stepping out of what is familiar can be scary and lead to meltdowns which can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. That’s why a family vacation can be both exciting and stressful. I hoped that visiting the parks would be a great experience for us and I used all the resources I had to plan our days to fit closely to our regular routine.
I arranged everything important for the early morning so that after lunch, we could decompress and just go back to the resort for some pool time. I knew we were missing out on some attractions and precious park time, but I also knew my son had a limit for waiting in lines and having to behave amongst all of the different sights and sounds that can become too overwhelming.
This worked well for us, but as he got older and became more of a thrill seeker, those wait times increased and I needed another plan. I learned about DAS (Disability Access Service). It is a game changer for us.
Here are 5 tips you should know before visiting
1 Setting Up DAS
To set up DAS is actually quite a simple process. Disney tries accommodate guests who could find long waits uncomfortable and difficult to handle. I was nervous to ask for it. Looking at my son you cannot tell there is anything different about him.
What if they wanted proof? As soon as I explained our situation, the cast member nodded and turned to my son. She explained to him that he was the leader. His band was a magic key that would get his family onto attractions through a VIP line. This was all he needed to hear to perk right up!
2 How DAS Works
Once DAS is loaded to your family member’s Magic Band, you are eligible to use the system. You simply visit the attraction that you would like to see and explain you will need a DAS return time. They will program it to your family member’s band and let you know when to come back. It’s that easy. Sort of like an instant FastPass. Return times vary depending on the actual wait times, so head for those with longer wait first if you didn’t get a regular FastPass (yes, you still get to prebook your original 3).
You can only have one DAS return programmed at a time. When it’s time, you simply walk in through the FastPass entrance. I love that at no point do we feel centered out or the need to explain our situation again. (We had a terrible experience with a local amusement park’s version of this). The important thing to note is your VIP has to be riding and they have to scan their band first to activate the DAS pass for the rest of your family members.
3 Take Breaks In The Park
If there’s a longer wait between return times with DAS, use that opportunity to grab a snack somewhere nearby or find a play area and let the kiddos cut loose. We love the play areas inside the Flying Dumbos tent and near Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom, the Boneyard in Animal Kingdom.
I never really understood them before I had kids. Who needs to play on a little slide and some climbers when they are in Walt Disney World? NOW I GET IT! In Epcot, a lot of the attractions in Future World have hands on games and play structures that are a great to pass some time. Most of them are after you exit the attraction, but you can simply walk in through the exit and head right for them. They are also great places to cool off in the air conditioning if it’s a hotter day. The aquariums in the Seas with Nemo and Friends are also great, open spaces.
4 Plan For Triggers And Things To Avoid
Planning for possible triggers and knowing some things to avoid also helps us have better experience in the parks. Disney provides resources that goes through many of the attractions and indicates some of the more sensory aspects that might be experienced (darkness, loud noises, restraints, surprise, etc. Some of these might have an easy fix like wearing ear defenders to lessen the noises, but for those who cannot handle ride restraints or extended periods of darkness, it’s great to be aware of what you might encounter. We also check out YouTube videos to get a better idea of what to expect if we are concerned about an attraction. Being able to talk about what might happen in advance helps with some of the anxiety of experiencing something new.
5 Know The Limits
Even with the FastPasses and DAS to help keep wait times down, our son can still hit a wall. As much as we’d love to stay a little longer and do one more attraction or show – we know that sometimes it’s time to head back to the resort. We try to stay Deluxe as often as possible since we do spend a large amount of time at the resort. Many of the Deluxe resorts have some great, low key activities for kids so even our down time still has some Disney flare. And the POOLS! They have some great feature pools with slides and activities planned throughout the afternoon.
Hopefully if you are considering visiting the Walt Disney World Resort and you will be travelling with someone on the Autism Spectrum, this helps you prepare so that you can spend more time experiencing the magic and not the meltdown!