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Autism Accommodations and Tips for Enjoying Your Disney World Vacation

disneyDoesn’t every child dream of meeting Mickey Mouse, or Cinderella and the rest of the Disney Princesses? When you are traveling with a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), these dreams may seem out of reach. ASD children tend to have difficulty waiting in lines, and become overwhelmed easily by crowds, and noisy places—something you cannot avoid in a Disney theme park. The following tips and instructions for easily receiving accommodations for your autistic child at Disney theme parks will help ease your anxiety and allow your entire family to enjoy the trip.

Carefully Chose the Right Time of Year to Travel

Enjoying the theme parks with autistic children may revolve around avoiding the crowds. Before you book your trip, if possible, investigate which times of the year draw the lightest crowds. For example, crowds are light in the parks during the early weeks in May, but extremely busy during the summer months, and over the Christmas holidays. When possible it may be advantageous to attempt to visit during the school year, or off-season times. By carefully picking your dates, you can avoid major lines at attractions and waits in restaurants and eateries. Crowd information for Disney World Resorts can be found at Disney World Touring Plansalong with touring plans, and ipad and android apps (there may be a small subscription fee).

Disney Touring Plans and Lines Apps

Touring plans and line wait times apps are another valuable resource that will help you to avoid lines and wait times allowing you to make the most of your vacation time. A touring plan is basically just that—a plan, which is designed to give you the best time to visit attractions and allows you to customize what you and your family want to see and do. The app for ipad/iphone or android devices allows you to take your customized touring plan with you on your mobile device. Additionally, the app offers up-to-date current ride wait-times so you can see how long the wait is on a particular ride before heading there with your children. Overall, the touring plans and apps are a great planning tools. Tip: ensure to schedule a nap or rest time during the day to keep both adults and children rested to avoid overload.

Autism Accommodations: Guest Assistance Cards

Disney issues Guest Assistance Cards (GAC’s) to guests with disabilities, which includes autism. If you are visiting a theme park with your child who is on the autism spectrum, do not underestimate the value of these accommodations. They are extremely helpful and simple to obtain. As soon as you enter a Disney park proceed directly to the Guest Relations Office and simply inform them that you have a disabled child. They will ask you what kind of accommodations you require and offer alternate entrance options, and/or stroller as a wheelchair options, then will issue you a GAC. The card/pass is then presented to the Disney Cast Member at ride entrances and you and your children are afforded an alternate entrance to the ride, a place to wait away from all the crowds. Usually this means going in through the Fastpass entrance (if the ride has Fastpass) or through the handicap access entrance.Anytime you ride a Disney bus, or wait on a line for a ride you must remove your child from the stroller and park your stroller in the designated area. If you have a stroller as a wheelchair pass, you will be allowed to keep your child in the stroller on the buses and in lines, just as if he/she was in a wheelchair. This is particularly helpful if your autistic child is a “runner”, or has the tendency to wander off.

Planning is the key to a successful Disney vacation when you are traveling with autistic children. Ensuring crowds are low, and you receive proper accommodations can make all the difference in the world. Keeping the line waits to a minimum will avoid plenty of frustration of having to drag children from attractions they normally would not have the ability to enjoy. Planned rest times, and when possible, nap times during the day can help avoid overload and overstimulation that is made worse when tired.

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.
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