Traveling to Walt Disney World can be a challenge, for any typical family, on any given day! Now throw in things like sensory sensitivities, ADHD, autism…or any other neurodiverse characters and the game plan literally has to change! Here are five tips from our most recent trip to Walt Disney World if your kiddo has a sensory processing disorder, sensitivities or any other sensory issues.
For a little background, my almost 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed in Kindergarten with ADHD. She was given the typical regimen of meds, but nothing ever really helped her in a sufficient way, for any length of time. Fast forward a few years and after suspecting she may actually be autistic, she underwent a day of evaluations. We worked with an amazing team at UVA University Hospital in Charlottesville, VA to discover that she has combined type ADHD (which present uniquely in, severe anxiety and sensory processing issues or sensitivities. As she’s gotten older she’s learned to cope with these things in a variety of ways and we are currently unmedicated. Approaching Walt Disney World there are some things we do to help alleviate the stress for her!
Disney offers those “who have difficulty tolerating extended waits in a conventional queue environment due to a disability.” This pass allows us to still wait for an attraction, at the posted wait time, but not in line. While you can reserve this pass 30 days prior to your trip, we opted to wait since the trip was a surprise for the kids. We simply stopped by guest services where they asked my daughter a series of questions. After which, the disability access icon appeared inside our My Disney Experience account. You only have to do this ONC for the whole trip and up to 5 members of your party may join the guest for who the pass is for. Our party was 6 so this pass was just for 2 kids and myself. We would use this pass similar to Disney Genie+ or the old Fastpass. We’d get a return time and while waiting, we could do other things. She often likes shopping or meeting characters OR we can wait for attractions that have less intense queues (these are often the more family-friendly rides and shows).
Don’t be afraid to take a break! For a lot of people, it’s obvious the parks can be a little overstimulating, on the best of days, but for kids with other sensory issues, EVERYTHING can be overstimulating…from the anticipation of getting ready to the bus stop, entering security, scanning magic bands…the crowds. For us, it’s important that we give her a little bit of downtime to decompress and let her get all her energy! We love to spend downtime swimming, relaxing in the room or sometimes we’ll venture outside the parks! Here are a few non-park things to do!
-Bowling at Disney Springs
-Visit the horses at the Tri-Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness
-Check out the resort scavenger hunts
-Most resorts offer smores and/or movies at the resorts in the evenings
-Rent a bike, surrey or boat! Our favorite resorts to do this at are Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness Campgrounds and the Boardwalk
-Mini-Golf! Disney offers TWO distinct courses; Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens
-Resort Tours! Any guest is welcome to ride the monorail or Skyliner! Visit all the resorts along both these unique transportation lines!
Special events can be a great option with less crowds, depending on the time of year you are visiting. For us, we opted for the Eats and Seats dessert party this time. This space gave me daughter room to move around, there were significantly less crowds and we were situated a little further back from the castle. If your kiddos have a big fear of fireworks, you might want to try the Fireworks Cruise from the Seven Seas Lagoon! You’ll get a beautiful view of the fireworks, in a less intense way!
This is a big one…and I forgot it! While we had pre-planned to attend the dessert party, I had forgotten to throw her protective earwear in the suitcase! She made due, but it was definitely an unnecessary stressor for us at the party! This is where lists and pre-packing come in handy! Things you might want to pack are:
-Special blankets or stuffies that calm your child
-Sensory objects to help them in the parks. We’ve been looking into purchasing calm strips!
-Smells or snacks that remind your child they are in a safe space. Smells (like oils or lotions) you use at home could do the trick!
– While I didn’t bring the kids tables/phones into the park, for some kids this gives them the sensory break they need!
-Don’t be afraid to bring a stroller for kids you wouldn’t typically use one for. This gives them a calming, enclosed space to decompress
-Stop by guest services if you need ANYTHING! They are happy to help you or guide you in the right direction!
While getting up early might not be for everyone, early park access allowed us some time to in the park with WAY less people. Early Park Access is 30 minutes every day, at every park, for all resort guests! If you are a Deluxe guest, and a night owl, check into Extended Evening Theme Park Hours on select evenings! These extra 2 hours in an uncrowded park can be a great option with far less stimulation!
Planning a Disney vacation? Several of our agents are certified Autism Specialists and would love to jump in and help! Reach out to us today!