• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”

5 Tips for Visiting Amusement Parks with your Autistic Child

Children with autism spectrum disorders can enjoy amusement parks with their families with just a little extra preparation. If you are intending to take your family to enjoy these parks and have an autistic child in tow, the following tips are for you. Ensuring your ASD child, a child with an autism spectrum disorder, is comfortable may be the key to their happiness and your sanity.

Spend Multiple Days at the Park

Accept that everything you plan to do will get muddied and go with the flow. Plan to spend more days, when possible, at the park then you ordinarily would need. Taking frequent breaks, leave the park, take a nap, or only go touring and go on rides for a few hours per day instead of staying from sunset until sundown. Although it would mean paying for park admission on multiple days, this strategy may allow you to see everything in a more relaxed fashion without have your child overloaded.

Take Your Restaurant Meals to Go

By not eating your meals inside restaurants, you will not only save money (to make up for the costs of those multiple-day park tickets) but be able to eat in a more relaxed environment. Take your meals back to your hotel room, eat in the park, or find a picnic bench. Eating in restaurants while on vacation with your ASD child can be difficult under any circumstances, but after a full day of over-stimulation that amusement parks bring with it can be impossible. Avoid the extra stress.

Always Ask for Accommodations

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 being able to keep your child in the stroller (using the stroller as a wheelchair) when accessing areas of the park that usually require you to remove the child and park the stroller in a separate 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; some places have great accommodations, while others are not worth the visit.

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, and the kids are having meltdowns because everything is loud, flashing, and overwhelming—and that is before you even hit the crowds. Sunglasses can help calm nerves, and avoid the headaches that come from it being overly bright. The sunscreen will help avoid the inevitable loss of night’s sleep due to sunburn. Crowds are stressful for autistic children, coupled with the roaring rolling coasters overhead, the lights, and excitement and it is a recipe for sensory overload. Headphones can filter out some of that noise and restore calm. Also, allowing your child to bring along their favorite sensory toy, blanket, or stuffed animal may also help sooth an overloaded child—or adult.

Give Each Child a Map and Let Them Plan

Theme park maps tend to have pictures of all the rides, which gives the children a visual picture of what to expect, and an idea of what they want to do. It provides ride/height requirements so that you can plan in advance what each child is able to ride. This one thing—knowing ahead of time, can divert many meltdowns. There is nothing worse than getting to front of the line with your child only to find out that they don’t meet the height restriction and you have to tear a very upset child away. Letting the children help plan gives them a sense of control, and helps them to know what to expect when they get to the park. Knowing what to expect, what is planned, and what will happen next is very important to autistic children.

It is possible for your family to enjoy a theme park vacation. Utilize these tips, avoid meltdowns, actively plan and let the children know what to expect and it should be an enjoyable experience for the entire family. Don’t forget to do your research, find out what accommodations are available for your children, and know your rights before you head out.

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, three of which are on the autism spectrum.

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