View Full Version : Traveling with an Autistic Child..Advice?

03-23-2005, 01:58 PM
We are booked on the September 10 Disney Magic Cruise. We are traveling with our 5 year old son who has High Function Autism. He understands a great deal and is capable of speech and is extremely affectionate, however, he does have some "ticks" (like flapping and echolalia) that the staff may not be prepared for or understand. Has anyone traveled with an autistic child? Have any advice? Tips? We know we would greatly appreciate it!


The Jones

03-23-2005, 03:01 PM
My sister is Autistic and we took her on the cruise when she was 5. She is really obsessive compulsive about a lot of things... My mom just let the counselors know these things when she signed her up at the kids club and she did fine... Never asked to be picked up. Talk to the kids counselors, they are great.

mickey squared
03-23-2005, 05:30 PM
We've been on two Magic cruises with the 3rd booked with our four childen, two which have autism. My 9 year old is low functioning, whereas my 5 year old is high functioniong. They both LOVE the "Mickey Ship" as my younger one refers to it. My older one is basically non-verbal, but it was a non-issue on the cruise. He tried the clubs for about an hour (with his therapist which we bring on our trips), but didn't like it, I still think because he wanted to be outside in the pool. That's where we spent almost every day, in the pools! We joked, all we needed was a Holiday Inn with a pool! He sometimes flaps, and vocally stims, but I think the Cm's are used to it, we got more glares from other people, but hey we're on vacation too. Our servers, especially Adrian was fantastic with our boys, treating them just the same as my girls. The only problem we have , is my kids only want the Mickey Ship, not DW anymore!

03-23-2005, 05:33 PM
No advice here...just wanted to let you know that I am in the exact same position. I wish we were traveling at the same time! My ds just turned 5..also HFA with Echolalia/speech delay. He appears ADHD more than anything..not the most focused kid (but how many little ones are?) I am so nervous about doing this cruise. I will anxiously be watching the responses to this thread. Thank you so much for posting this.

It is so nice to know that we aren't alone :grouphug:

03-23-2005, 05:44 PM
So are these DCL counselors trained to handle different kinds of disabilities? I know at my 4 year olds school the teachers are not trained for autistic children. I believe autistic children go to special schools where the staff is trained in how to work with the children. I don't think you could drop off an autistic child in my daughter's class so I was wondering if DCL is different in that way? I guess I would be afraid to put my child in the Club if they needed special care unless I knew the counselors were equipped to deal with them? Am I just being paranoid or are these "counselors" totally trained in dealing with all children (unlike a regular daycare center)?

03-23-2005, 08:00 PM
Hi Sue! Just to answer you question..many kids with ASD are in special day class and many others are in typical. My ds (5 y.o.) is actually in both...special day preschool as well as traditional preschool...they call it mainstreaming. In my situation, I know that my son will not talk unless he really needs to, and when he does he has the expressive skills of a child about a year younger. He also needs to be looking at you when you speak...otherwise he will not be listening. Very small things, but they add up. He is sweet and kind..but just on his own little path. Most people don't know his delays until he speaks. I guess I am just concerned that he might get lost in shuffle..or concerned that the staff may not understand/care or have the time to know this about him.

03-23-2005, 11:01 PM
Low Functioning Autistics usually go to specialized school, however high functioning children (HFA) (like my son) are actually mainstreamed in regular schools. You may even have an HFA child in your daughters class and not even know it. Most people don't know that these children are autistic unless they spend some real amount of time with them and they begin to notice certain little ticks that they have. Unfortunately most people think that if you have autism that you are like "Rain Man". Most are not like that. While in some ways HFA is a blessing that our children are capable of functioning ina more mainstream setting, it can sometimes be more difficult in that people often do not understand why our children seem "off" or distant, flap there hands, repeat phrases etc. I really appreciate your interest!

03-24-2005, 12:41 AM
Thank you so much for enlightening me! This is great to know - it is always great to build understanding with people.

Squirrelgirl - I loved you comment "He is sweet and kind..but just on his own little path." That really touched my heart.

I am a big Clay Aiken fan and I just remembered that he mentions his work in "mainstreaming" autistic children with regular classrooms in his book. I should have remembered this.

God bless you both and much success to you and your children.

03-25-2005, 05:37 PM
Bump Bump

03-25-2005, 09:47 PM
I need to share this info with a friend of mine. Her grandson was diagnosed with autism a little over a year ago. He is 4 years old and has an older sibbling. A Disney Cruise would be a fantastic vacation for them. Kathy

03-25-2005, 10:30 PM
Be sure to check out the disABILITIES board on this web site. They have many threads with parents who are experienced at traveling with autistic children.

03-25-2005, 10:44 PM
I am learning more and more and trying to keep this post current. If you are traveling with and autistic child you should definately fill out a DCL medical release form so the cruise line knows that you and your child are coming and can notify the staff. They can provide bedrails if needed as well as doing everything that they can to make the trip enjoyable for your child and you!

I would also recommend that you call DCL directly and let them know your concerns (DCL 1-800-511-1333)

If you need a medical release form, let me know and I will email one to you.

**A special request to travelers**
If you see a child that may seem difficult to handle, is having a bit of an outburst, seems a little distant or says something over and over (especially from a movie). They might be a tired or overstimulated child...and they might be an autistic child. Your kindness and understanding would be so very much appreciated. :grouphug: :thewave:

03-27-2005, 04:17 PM
My AS son has done 3 DCL cruises now one at 12, 13 and 14 and we have 2 more booked. He is high functioning but when he was young he was very rigid to schedule, stimmed and was (is) speech delayed. We never attempted vacations until 5 years ago. He is the oldest of three so we just didn't have to strength to deal with vacations with him and 2 younger children. But... after 3 cruises I would feel comfortable taking him when he was 5 and regret that we hadn't tried it sooner. Things have changed, people are much more familiar with autism and somewhat understanding. The CM's on the ship are very familiar with autism (more so each year it seems) and did their best to understand and include him. I made it clear to them that I didn't expect them deal with behaviors, to beep me for anything and I would come running. I kept my promise and the few times I was beeped I ran. We had the most wonderful week I can remember the first cruise. He did really well with the most wonderful CM's. We were also fortunate that some of the CM's were there the following year when we moved him down an age group to the 10-12s. Last year the experience in the teen group was horrible because the CM's were horrible but he was proud of himself for dealing with difficult situations.

I think the most important thing we did was to prepare him completely so that there weren't many surprises. We watched the video, went over and over the Navigators & menus, looked at pictures of the room and talked about it so much before the first cruise he was completely prepared. Bring earplugs! At 12 he was still very sensitive to loud noises and the clubs and shows are very loud at times. Having the earplugs in his pocket gave him control and they do not have them on the ship anywhere.

We always call and request a table for 5 so that he has the time to decompress and he doesn't have to deal with a social situation at meals. I learned this year that it is noted in our servers notes that an autistic child is in the group. He has matured so much that when we were telling our server on the last night that they were so wonderful with our autistic son he was really surprised. He showed us the note that we had an AS son but he told the head server he thought that it was a misprint.

You will have a great week on the ship. I found our son learned so much socially each time we went. They were great weeks and I can't wait until we go again.

Goofy cruisers
03-28-2005, 11:49 AM
Thank you so much for enlightening me! This is great to know - it is always great to build understanding with people.

Squirrelgirl - I loved you comment "He is sweet and kind..but just on his own little path." That really touched my heart.

I am a big Clay Aiken fan and I just remembered that he mentions his work in "mainstreaming" autistic children with regular classrooms in his book. I should have remembered this.

God bless you both and much success to you and your children.

Goofy cruisers here!
We went last year on the land and sea trip on the Wonder with our daughter who is Autistic as well. What we did was make up picture story of what to expect from leaving our home to the airport to the resorts to the ship. It helped her out a lot with what to expect step by step. We had a such a great time we are going in 4 weeks on the 7 day trip. If you let Disney know they seem to go out of their way to help you have a great time. She already told her sister I get the lower bed you sleep on the top bunk!

luv that cruise
03-28-2005, 01:39 PM
My 12 year old has high functioning autism and he's been cruising disney since he was 5. we never filled out a medical form but did discuss simple behavior strategies with counselors who were always positive and willing to give it a try. he has always prefered less structure so i can remember when he was younger we'd "move him down" to a younger age group that allowed more free play time. he'd rather slide and run around than to make flubber with a group. the general rule was that his presence in the younger group shouldn't pose a problem for the other children. he was also expected to follow the rules - i.e. moving from one area to another, play time is over and it's time to watch a movie, etc. we would ask about transitions when we signed him in and talk with him about things to expect while he was in the club. Good luck and hopefully all of you will have a great time. I don't know what type of an "eater" you child is but ours is extremely picky (as are many ASD kids). Our server was extremely attentive and made sure we had donuts in the morning and had pizza brought from pinochio's. For some reason he likes this pizza and not the type served in the dining rooms. Lots of crunchy snacks for sale near in Walt disney theater and i think that is where we got our stash of popcorn and pretzles. Plan ahead tho as this snack bar is only open before shows.

03-28-2005, 03:11 PM
First, as someone who works w/the differently-abled kids of the world...HURRAH for parents who are so committed and involved in creating great opportunities for their kids. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart (for both your kids teachers, specialists and maybe, your non-verbal kiddo too). :love2:

That said, I would also say, be very upfront w/Disney about your child and concerns in staff dealing w/your child. Disney is progressive in their assistance to disabilities, so I would think they would accommodate as best they can. :cheer2:

If your child is used to a PECS system (picture exchange system), definitely prepare cards to take w/you for different situations. I would provide the picture system to the kids club as well to assist w/their communication w/your child.
Definitely order the DCL DVD to show your child what the boat looks like, etc.
Also, make sure your child has YOUR name/info somewhere on them...even if they are not in the kids club, you can turn around one second and them be gone...if they have difficulty communicating or socializing w/others, on a crowded boat they can get lost from you and have trouble expressing that to "helpful" adults.

Again...thank you for doing something so special for your kids! :lovestruc

03-28-2005, 07:45 PM
I agree with those that mentioned preparing your child prior to vacation. My son doesn't have autism or other disability but when he was three we took him to visit relatives in Denver and that was a nightmare! His behavior was awful from start to finish and it was so unlike him. After the fact we realized we probably could have avoided a lot of that by preparing him better for the trip. I think he just felt out of control and lost. Since then each time we go somewhere we prepare him beforehand and then explain each morning what the day will be like. He's back to his little angel self on trips. Good advice for all kids!

Paula H
03-28-2005, 08:44 PM
Challada - thanks so much for your post!! My DS is 3 (will be a week shy of 4 when we cruise) and has verbal apraxia. We'd gotten away from using PECs at home because he's now verbal enough to express to us what he needs, but his sound errors are pretty severe. Using PECs is a fabulous idea for the trip! We've vactioned with him quite a bit, but have always stayed with him because we're afraid he'll need something and no one else will understand. He's socially age-appropriate (actually very social) and I know he'd do great in the kids' club - I'm so excited about this idea!! Thanks again.