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Autism Vacationing Tips for Visiting Amusement Parks

Hubby and I just came back from a week’s vacation at Carowinds Amusement Park in South Carolina. Last year, we took the boys to Disney and Universal Studios in Orlando , Florida. The boys, and I, love to visit theme parks and have learned some things along the way (all of them the hard way I assure you). So I thought I was post my thoughts on top tips for vacationing (specifically visiting amusement parks, because that is our thing) with ASD children. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments box we can all use more of them!

cobra-ride

1. ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND PLAN ACCORDINGLY.

Accept that everything you plan to do will somehow get muddied up and learn to go with the flow (so not my strong point). Everything that you plan to do will cost more and take longer. I find that what will take a typical family one day to accomplish may take us several days.

For example, if we want to visit an amusement park we need to do it over several days at short intervals. Many people visit theme parks and get there when the park opens—staying until closing. This is not possible for our family. That is too long of a day without a break and the children cannot handle that period of time in an environment with overwhelming stimuli. Not only is this a lot of work, but it costs more than just dragging the kids through a park for one day. It more money in theme park tickets to go on multiple days, and then there are the hotel stays.

2. DO NOT EAT OUT IN RESTAURANTS—EVER.

This is the new mantra around our house. For years we tried to act “normal”. We thought we should be able to take our children to a restaurant and have them behave the way we observed “neuro-typical” children behaving with their families.

Before we were aware of autism in our family, we as parents always felt like failures—like our kids were misbehaved monsters that we could not control. And yes, that is exactly how others made us feel too. If we attempt to eat out now, hubby and I usually never make it to actually eat our meals. The meals wind up in “to go” boxes along with most of the kid’s food too.

Getting all three boys to sit still and wait for their food to be served is nearly impossible, and by the time the food arrives we are in frenzy ready to leave. This mistake has caused us so much grief over the years because we wind up upset, angry at the kids, and hungry. Plus it costs us money to NOT EAT!

Now, we still “eat out” when we are on vacation, but we always order our food and take it to go back to our hotel room. Not only does this allow us to eat in a relaxed manner, the kids are calm and actually get to eat their food. AND it saves us a ton of money.

How, you ask since we are still ordering from restaurants? Drinks and tips. I calculated that we are saving $15-$20 on EACH MEAL by eating in the hotel room and buying drinks that are kept in our hotel room refrigerator. The average cost for soft drinks in a restaurant is $2.19 per person—for a family of 5 (soon to be six) that is over $10 just for drinks times 3 meals per day…plus tips. We save about $10 more dollars per meal by order “to go” because we save on having to tip for service that we usually do not receive because we are hurrying out the door as soon as our food arrives! $50-60 bucks per day on drinks and tips can really add up during a week’s vacation!

3. AWAYS ASK FOR ACCOMMODATIONS!

Before we go anywhere, especially when it comes to Amusement Parks I make a point of researching what type, if any, autism accommodations they offer. Accommodations range from having a quiet place to wait your turn in line for rides, being able to use an Alternate Entrance, or able to keep your child in the stroller (using the stroller as a wheelchair) when accessing areas where you usually have to take them out and try to hold onto them while parking the stroller in another area. The park websites usually have information on what accommodations are available and how to access them. Unfortunately, not all theme parks are created equally, and some places have great accommodations, while others really stink.

4. BRING SUNGLASSES, SUNSCREEN, AND EARPLUGS OR NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES.

Nothing is worse than walking around in the sunshine not being able to see because the sun is too bright for your eyes, your skin is hot and burning (or in my case my ankles because I failed to put the sunblock that far down my legs), and the kids (and mommy) are having meltdowns because everything is loud, flashing and overwhelming!

Ensuring we all have our sunglasses helps with the brightness, and instantly calms my nerves because I can see, and it lessens headaches and discomfort that I begin to get when out in the bright sun too long. The sunblock is something I always used to forget about until it was too late! Day two or three is too late when your skin is already burning and he had a horrible night’s sleep because the sheets were unbearable against your skin.

Bringing earplugs is a necessity for us! The crowds get loud, and I find it difficult to concentrate on what any one person is saying even if they are right next to me. Then of course there is the roar of the roller coasters thundering overhead. Wearing earplugs helps to filter out the background noise that I am unable to filter on my own. Aspie Teen prefers earphones, and when he is getting stressed will slip them on along with some music from his phone and walk along in the crowds with a new sense of calm.

5. GIVE EACH KID A MAP AND LET THEM PLAN WHAT THEY WANT TO DO.

The park maps tend to have pictures of all the rides, which gives my boys a visual picture of what to expect and what they want to do. Plus, it provides us with ride/height requirements so that we can plan and in IN ADVANCE what each child is able to ride. This one thing—knowing ahead of time, has diverted many meltdowns.

My 9 year-old is a sensory seeker and loves rollercoasters. The problem is that he wants to go on all of them, and he is too small! Many times we were unaware of requirements until we arrived, or happen to pass by a ride that grabbed his attention only to find he was too small—instant meltdown!

Planning in advance, letting him know exactly what his choices are has stopped those meltdowns (well most of them). Sometimes he still has mini-meltdowns because he really wants to try out a ride that he is too small for, but at least they are over with rather quickly, and usually occur before we leave the hotel room to head to the park. Then he just complains that he is too short and wants to grow taller. I think the key is in his expectations. When he knows what to expect he can cope, when he has a plan in his head, he and it gets foiled, he is less able to cope with his disappointment.

I am in the process of writing my post about Carowinds’ Autism Accommodations (here’s a hint: it is NOT good) and it will be linked below. To read the posts from last year’s trip about Disney and Universal click the links below.

Amusement Parks we have visited and our experiences with accommodations:

 

Disney World

Universal Studios

Carowinds

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE SUGGESTIONS/TIPS TO SHARE FOR VACATIONING OR VISITING AMUSEMENT PARKS WITH YOUR ASD CHILDREN???  PLEASE SHARE IN THE COMMENTS SECTION!

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.