Can’t Wait for School Break: Autism and Disney

Scholastic asked me to write this post and share our vacation planning experiences. Over the past few years, we’ve taken several family vacations at Disney Parks. You’d think that Autism and Disney wouldn’t mix. The happiest place on earth, is at times, perhaps the noisiest place on earth, but Sebby seems to thrive at Disney Parks.

Our family in front of  Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World at night.

Earlier this month, I was invited to the Disney Social Media Moms Conference, so we pulled the kids out of school to spend 5 days at Walt Disney World. Missing school time meant having to take some time to learn while we played. Reading each day, whether it was park maps, signs or the best travel audiobooks was part of our vacation plan.

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Keeping a regular routine is probably one the most important things we can do not only for Sebby’s Autism but for all of our kids. Reading each day, having the same sorts of snacks are all simple parts of routine that can occur naturally during the vacation.

Don’t try to do it all. Walt Disney World is HUGE. Four parks, not including the water parks means a lot more rides and ground to cover. We quickly learned that travel time was really disruptive for all of our kids and it was really hard to have to wait all the time. While many people have the strategy of trying to conquer single parks in one day, we found ourselves bouncing around to different parks doing different things for each child. It sounds crazy but it was a lot easier to negotiate not doing ALL things if each child got to do at least one thing they REALLY wanted to do each day. This meant Sebby rode the Rock and Roll Roller Coaster 3 times during our trip.

Sebby's first upside-down rollercoaster.

If you need it, utilize Disney’s Disability Access Service. Stop at guest services at the front of any park and explain your child’s cognitive disability. They’ll talk to you about finding a solution that best suits your child. Generally this means being assigned a time to return to a ride without the stress of physically waiting in the standby line. We didn’t use the Disability Access Service at Walt Disney World (we had special accommodations because of DisneySMMC) but we’ve used the service at Disneyland and it makes a big difference in navigating the parks.

All hail the Autism shirts. We have a collection of custom t-shirts that make Autism and Disney a little easier for Sebby. Sayings like “I find your lack of Autism acceptance disturbing” and “Please be patient, I have Autism” seem to help a little bit and lessen the explaining, and shorten the stares.

Meeting our favorite emotions

Give them something to do that’s the same every day. For us, it’s pin trading. Each trip means a new lanyard and new pins. Sebby has a fascination with monorail pins, his sister loves princesses and the Orange Bird, and his little brother loves Mickey Mouse. Pin trading is great for kids who have Autism and are verbal. It forces them to communicate. Not only that, but it gives us a concrete routine. That’s important.

Utilize Disney Park photographers and the Memory Maker. As a parent to child with Autism, it’s nice to not worry about the camera and let someone else capture the moment. More importantly, I don’t worry who is and isn’t looking at the camera. In our family photos, it’s rare that everyone is looking at the camera at the same time, and it’s no different at Disney. We don’t fight it, there is no point. The only difference is I’m actually IN the photos. And speaking of photos, I don’t sweat it if we miss a photo opp, or if all kids don’t want to be in all photos. It happens. 🙂

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The most important thing about Autism and Disney? Stay in the moment. Don’t sweat the meltdowns or making it all perfect. If riding the same rides over and over is what keeps them happy – let them do it. Those will be your best memories. Enjoy the ride, and your vacation.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Disney. The opinions and text are all mine.

About Kerri Jablonski

Kerri Jablonski AKA The Maven lives in Seattle,WA with her 3 kids (2008, 2010, 2013), husband, cat and backyard chickens. Two of her children have special needs. Kerri enjoys cooking, travel, movies and spending time with her family.