Saturday, July 7, 2012

Disney Parks: An Aspie Friendly Basic Overview

Have you ever been to Disney? Does the thought of going to Disney with autism make you tense? Disney done right should bring a smile to everyone’s faces. This series of blogs is an effort to provide you with some basic information to help you understand how to make the most of a Disney Parks vacation.

I’ve got to say that Disney is absolutely amazing and incredibly accommodating when it comes to special needs! And I’m not just talking about those who have easily identifiable needs. For those with Asperger’s type autism, who are often thought of as having an “invisible disability”, Disney proved quite understanding on our trips, while the parks, themselves, where a magical place for a daughter, where some of her Special Interests come to life! 

Let’s get started!

For a little background, the three of us went to Disneyland several years ago, a few years after our daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s (an Autism Spectrum Disorder). Just recently, we visited Walt Disney World (Kristina is now in high school). Not only are both parks different and continue to evolve, but Kristina has changed over the years, as well. In fact, she’s blogging about Disney on her personal blog, www. Head over there for this teen’s point of view! She is providing much more detail on the WDW Park, and has great insight for those who are a bit sensory, as she is.

Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World, a quick comparison

Disneyland is located in California, and has two main parks: Disneyland and California Adventure. Walt Disney World (WDW) is located in Florida and has four main parks: the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot. Unlike Disneyland, WDW has other park options, such as Blizzard Beach, which can be added ($) to your park experience. Both have a “Downtown Disney” section (think mega shopping district).

Disneyland is quite walkable, and it is possible to walk from your hotel to each park. Walt Disney World, on the other hand, covers quite a bit of land, making it near impossible to walk to any park from the other, or hotels/resorts, as everything is rather spread out. In order to see each park, you must rely on driving or taking available transportation (such as park buses, the Monorail, etc.)

Many of the same rides are available at both parks, such as Dumbo and It’s a Small World.

Each park has its own unique feel. After visiting both, we definitely have our favorite. :)

Very Basic Tips, Tricks, and General Information

  • Bring a lightweight backpack or bag into the park and carry a few necessary items with you. Consider bringing:
    • Medicines, band-aids, and any other First-Aid items your family tends to need.
    • Water bottles. There are water fountain all around, making it easy to refill a water bottle throughout the day.
    • Wet wipes, or a zip bag with a damp washcloth.
    • Rain ponchos (for Florida).
    • Plastic zip bags for any electronics, such as cameras, to keep them nice and dry. (Florida is prone to daily rain showers, not to mention some rides might make you wet!)
    • Sunscreen.
    • Anything else you think you may need, but keep it light as it will definitely feel heavier throughout the day!
  • All bags are checked before going through the gate.
  • At WDW, guests must place their finger on a scanner in order to check their fingerprint against their park pass. (Not sure about DL.) Depending on your Aspie, they may need to be prepared for this tidbit ahead of time.
  • Bring a hat for everyone if you are visiting during warmer months.
  • Meals here, like any other park food, are expensive, so plan accordingly. However, unlike most park food, the overall selection is much healthier, and we’ve been quite pleased at both parks. Sit down restaurants now require advance reservations most times of the year, as availability is proving more and more limited.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. (Like I needed to say this, but we did see several women of all ages sporting high heels. Nothing like sacrificing comfort to sport that new pedicure, especially when Florida’s humidity wreaks havoc with hair and makeup!)
  • Ask each family member what they would like to see or do before you head out for the day. This will help ensure expectations are met and meltdowns are kept at a minimum.
  • Do not underestimate your child’s interpretation of sensory input, and respect it, even if this means you miss out on your favorite attraction. Remember, some folks are sensory-seeking (these are the guys that can’t get enough of the thrill rides!), while others, such as my daughter, prefer the opposite. That’s ok.
  • Rides, even “kiddie” rides are family friendly, which means mom or dad can ride, too! Love it!
  • Some shows are what K refers to as “4D”. These include air blowing, water “spitting”, bubbles floating down, even smells wafting. It pays to read up ahead of time so your child is not caught off guard.
  • 3D shows and rides require wearing plastic 3D glasses. (I wore them over my regular glasses just fine. Though they do feel a bit awkward, the experience makes up for it.)
  • Understand some times of year are busier than others, and those may vary from park to park. Oddly enough, we went to both parks during the same week (albeit years apart), and it felt less crowded in Disneyland than WDW. However, my understanding is that Disneyland came become quite packed on any given weekend, as many locals love to frequent it.
  • If you believe your child’s flavor of autism requires some additional assistance, consider looking into the Guest Assistance Card. Some spectrum kids truly benefit from it, while others will never need it.
  • People come from all over the world to visit Disney. If someone does not reply to you when you speak to them, it could be because they do not understand English. But smiles are universal. :)
Those are just a few points, from one family's point of view. More to follow as our family shares our experiences with you!

Of course, Disney World’s main site is wonderful, and we relied on it heavily, but If you’d like more in-depth, unaffiliated information, there are scads of blogs and websites waiting to be clicked on and read! We found several, such as and quite helpful, as well as individual blogs posts scattered about. Some, such as, provide general menu ideas for restaurants, including walkup windows, which is very helpful with even one picky eater in the house!  There are also apps to download that include wait times for shows and rides as well as park maps.

Have you been? I’d love it if you would share your tips below!

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