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Old 09-27-2012, 03:00 PM   #1
chipsgirl
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4yo w/Autism during Spring Break

We are planning on going to Disney for Spring Break with my husbands family. My little boy will have just turned 4 when we leave for the trip. He has Autism and SPD. He hates crowds, loud noises, lots of movement, smells, and heat. Unfortunately I have no decision making over when we go since this is a gift to us so I'm trying to prepare myself as best as I can but honestly I don't have much hope for this being anything but a disaster. I've been to Disney many times but not since 2004 and never with my kids. If anyone can offer tips to make the trip as easy as possible for my little guy, I'd really appreciate it. I also have a daughter who will be 5 and she loves all things Disney so we want to make it as wonderful for her and not make her miss too many things because of her brother. It's hard to balance
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Old 09-27-2012, 03:36 PM   #2
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*First and foremost get a GAC card. Do a search here on Dis to find out more.

*I would plan to be at the parks before rope drop every day, and go back to your resort after lunch. That will help you avoid the worst crowds.

*Try to find eating spots that are outside and send others in to battle the crowds and smells

*Get him a stroller, preferably one with a hood. That way as you walking from one part of the park to the next he can pull it down as a "blinder" to block out the crowd.

*Get him a pair of noise canceling headphones he can wear the entire time he is in the parks- including on rides. That will help cut out on the noise issues.

*Is there a smell that he does like? If so bring something along so he has a sniffie that he can put up under his nose when other smells are present

*Get him a GOOD travel fan that he can hang around his neck and operate himself when he needs to cool down. www.travelsmith.com has some higher quality fans.

*Don't be afraid to split up and have the adults take turns taking your DD to the parks while someone stays in the room (or pool) with your son

Last edited by SueM in MN; 02-09-2013 at 07:54 AM. Reason: Removed link and information from allears about autism since it is outdated nd contains incorrect information
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Old 09-27-2012, 04:23 PM   #3
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Noise canceling headphones are not good for blocking noise. He needs noise blocking headphones or ear protectors (over the ear earmuffs).
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Old 09-27-2012, 05:23 PM   #4
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When is your spring break? Ours is mid-march, with crowd levels around 7s, I think, so not TOO bad, I don't think. DS has some sensory issues, and we are doing almost all of those suggestions, except for the headphones because he won't wear them. I'm renting a stroller because at 6 he won't have the physical stamina to do the parks. We plan on heading back for a swim after lunch every day, and going back for dinner and more fun, I think.

My biggest suggestion is to go at HIS pace and follow his cues for what is too much for him.
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Old 09-27-2012, 07:14 PM   #5
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We went last Spring Break with our 2 autistic sons 6 & 4. We were there until the Friday before Easter. We had an a GAC in case of meltdowns & "stroller as wheelchair" stickers. The crowds were crazy but with the little guys safely in their own little worlds (the strollers) they didn't seem to mind. Our's also hate noise so we brought noice cancelling earmuffs that they never used. If it bothered them, the fingers went in the ears but they had huge smiles on their faces. The ride that we thought would drive them nuts, IASW, was actually one of their faves. They didn't even try to block out the song though I saw several adults who tried We managed the whole trip with the miracle of no meltdowns. I don't exactly understand how Disney magic works but it's REAL! I think you may be pleasantly surprised on this trip.

Last edited by SueM in MN; 02-09-2013 at 07:34 AM.
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Old 09-28-2012, 02:40 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Kellykins1218 View Post
The ride that we thought would drive them nuts, IASW, was actually one of their faves. They didn't even try to block out the song though I saw several adults who tried We managed the whole trip with the miracle of no meltdowns. I don't exactly understand how Disney magic works but it's REAL! I think you may be pleasantly surprised on this trip.
That's funny - IASW was my son's favorite ride too. He's 4 and has ASD ith sensory processing problems. He's never really gone on rides because he is afraid of them, but just loved IASW. Smiled so big the whole time. It was really magical.
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Old 09-28-2012, 02:51 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by chipsgirl View Post
We are planning on going to Disney for Spring Break with my husbands family. My little boy will have just turned 4 when we leave for the trip. He has Autism and SPD. He hates crowds, loud noises, lots of movement, smells, and heat. Unfortunately I have no decision making over when we go since this is a gift to us so I'm trying to prepare myself as best as I can but honestly I don't have much hope for this being anything but a disaster. I've been to Disney many times but not since 2004 and never with my kids. If anyone can offer tips to make the trip as easy as possible for my little guy, I'd really appreciate it. I also have a daughter who will be 5 and she loves all things Disney so we want to make it as wonderful for her and not make her miss too many things because of her brother. It's hard to balance
I know how you feel about balancing it for your daughter. My son is 4 and I have a daughter who is 18 months older than him. The first trip to Disney we didn't take him (he was only 3 then) in part because I didn't think he could deal with the trip and in part so the visit could be about her. I honestly didn't think he would want to go, but he looked at the pictures and I could just tell he was jealous.

Well, he absolutely LOVED Disney World, and now asks all the time since we got home about 2 weeks ago to go see Mickey.

His stroller is his haven. We had the stroller as a wheelchair tag - get a stroller and the tag. We actually ended up renting a stroller from Orlando Stroller Rental because we didn't have a lot of room and thought it would be easier. It was - the stroller was great, he fit nicely, it was perfect. Let him stay in the stroller as much as he likes.

We also brought along his electronic "distract him" toys - you know, game boy or DSI or my iphone. Whenever he got uncomfortable, I handed him one and he was able to pretend that whatever was making him unhappy wasn't happening. We also had the stroller fans that I could clip onto the stroller. It was especially helpful when he napped.

So, get the GAC - it helps. Use the stroller. Have some toys or comfort items that can distract him. Be prepared to go into the stores often if he gets hot, or there are fireworks that scare him.

How does he do at restaurants? If he doesn't do well, you might want to avoid TS meals because they take a long time. We went in early September, so we were able to use his stroller when necessary at the restaurants but I really doubt they will let you during Spring Break. Also, make sure you have the wheelchair tag or they won't let you take the stroller too many places.

I showed my son youtube videos of rides, tours of our resort, and walkthroughs of the parks for about 8 monts before we went. I think it really helped because he seemed to know what everything was and was less nervous than usual. Sometimes it is hard to tell when they aren't very verbal.

Good luck and enjoy your trip!
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Old 09-29-2012, 12:44 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chipsgirl
We are planning on going to Disney for Spring Break with my husbands family. My little boy will have just turned 4 when we leave for the trip. He has Autism and SPD. He hates crowds, loud noises, lots of movement, smells, and heat. Unfortunately I have no decision making over when we go since this is a gift to us so I'm trying to prepare myself as best as I can but honestly I don't have much hope for this being anything but a disaster. I've been to Disney many times but not since 2004 and never with my kids. If anyone can offer tips to make the trip as easy as possible for my little guy, I'd really appreciate it. I also have a daughter who will be 5 and she loves all things Disney so we want to make it as wonderful for her and not make her miss too many things because of her brother. It's hard to balance
Also, locate the family bathroom. In MK there is one nice one near the Crystal Palace I believe. For children still I pull ups or who are afraid of bathroom sounds, it is great. My daughter was so afraid of the bathrooms but we used this family one whenever we were near and also kept the free round stickers that CM will give you ,..in your pocket. Put them over the auto sensor. Just remove when you leave!
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Old 10-01-2012, 10:08 AM   #9
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Thank you for all the tips.

Do they have strollers for rent in the park with a hood? Do I get the wheelchair sticker for it the same time that I get the GAC? Whenever we go to the zoo, he likes to have the stroller to hide out in so that's definitely a good idea for Disney as well.

He does not do well at all in crowded restaurants so I'm guessing we will have to skip the character meals. That's going to break my daughter's heart
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Old 10-01-2012, 11:42 AM   #10
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He does not do well at all in crowded restaurants so I'm guessing we will have to skip the character meals. That's going to break my daughter's heart
Garden Grill has booths that have really high backs and when you're in them you feel like you're all alone with the rest of the restaurant blocked out. You could request one of these booths if you're willing to wait. I like booking first seating ADRs when possible which helps with crowds in the waiting area plus it makes it easier to get requests like these with less wait. Garden Grill has Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale.

1900 Park Fare has an annex area off to the side. This area is only wide enough for one row of tables against each wall and is I think maybe around 6 tables deep. The table are pretty close together but it's a much smaller room so maybe he could handle that a little better? If he's ok waiting at the table while somebody else goes to get his food then he might be able to cope with that a bit better than in a big dining room. Even in the annex it does get kind of noisy. Look around at pictures to see if it might work.

Cape May Cafe also has an annex area but it's a bit more spacious. We haven't sat in that one so I don't know much about it other than it exists. When we've done a last breakfast seating here, even when we sit in the dining room it doesn't feel all that crowded. It feels airy and spacious even when all of the tables are full. You can request a booth to give him more comfort as there's no way another person's chair can bump him accidentally if he's in a booth, plus the booths if I recall had high enough backs so that he'd have to get up on his knees in order to see the people at the next table which means it feels more like personal space rather than crowded by the next table. Breakfast had Minnie, Goofy and Donald last time I checked.
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February 2014 AKL: me, DH, DD15, DD13 * July 2013 DL offsite (Tropicana): me, DH, DD15, DD12, DSD30, DSSil * February 2013 WDW Poly: me, DH, DD14, DD12
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January 1994 WDW offsite: me, DH, DSD11, DSD9 * January 1992 WDW offsite: me, DH, DSD9, DSD7
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Old 10-01-2012, 11:48 AM   #11
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Do they have strollers for rent in the park with a hood? Do I get the wheelchair sticker for it the same time that I get the GAC? Whenever we go to the zoo, he likes to have the stroller to hide out in so that's definitely a good idea for Disney as well.
The strollers for rent in the parks do have a canopy. There are pictures in the disAbilities FAQ thread at the top of this forum. Yes, you will get the stroller-as-wheelchair tag at Guest Relations when you request the GAC, it will be stamped on there as well but the tag to hang on the stroller handle is more visible to CMs. If he might need a stroller outside of the parks (resort, Downtown Disney, etc.) you might want to do an off-site rental, which is also likely to be less expensive.

Enjoy your vacation!
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Old 10-01-2012, 01:32 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by chipsgirl View Post
Thank you for all the tips.

Do they have strollers for rent in the park with a hood? Do I get the wheelchair sticker for it the same time that I get the GAC? Whenever we go to the zoo, he likes to have the stroller to hide out in so that's definitely a good idea for Disney as well.

He does not do well at all in crowded restaurants so I'm guessing we will have to skip the character meals. That's going to break my daughter's heart
I would not rent a park stroller - they are fine for regular stroller use, but they are hard plastic, the canopy doesn't come down far like in a regular stroller, and the sides are not as deep. They would not make good "comfort zones"! We rented a stroller from Orlando Stroller Rentals (they have a banner on the families forum here on the DIS) and were thrilled with it. My son loved it and he sometimes hesitates with strange strollers. It was really easy to fold up (just pull from a handle in the middle - the easiest I've had!).

Also, if you rent from an outside rental place you will have it for at the resort too. They deliver it to your resort - pick up at bell services - and then they pick it up too. You just return it to bell services.

Does your son eat at restaurants? Mine does not - he is really picky about food and eats only a very limited amount/selection. So if yours eats, he may do better at the restaurants in a booth like another poster said. To be honest though, I didn't find the character meals to be worth it. I thought the interaction was better outside of the restaurants and the pictures are a lot better at the regular meet and greets. The meal felt more stressful waiting for characters and trying to get pictures. We decided not to do it again next trip. We encounter enough stress without adding to it! Also, the character meals are kind of loud.

Rather than character meals, you might want to do a special experience for your daughter like BBB to dress up like a princess or Pirates League to be done up like a pirate or mermaid.

When you get your GAC, they will give you the tag to put on your stroller. You keep the tag the whole trip.
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Old 10-03-2012, 09:57 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by clanmcculloch View Post
Garden Grill has booths that have really high backs and when you're in them you feel like you're all alone with the rest of the restaurant blocked out. You could request one of these booths if you're willing to wait. I like booking first seating ADRs when possible which helps with crowds in the waiting area plus it makes it easier to get requests like these with less wait. Garden Grill has Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale.
We visited WDW with our 5yo DD, who has ASD, the week after Easter this year. We ate at Garden Grill. It is pretty low-key compared to most of the other character meals like Chef Mickey's, and definitely less noisy. We had some great interaction with the characters, particularly Chip & Dale, when we were there. As Clanmcculloch, said, the way the restaurant is arranged, it doesn't feel as crowded as some of the others.

Another "special" place to eat, though not a character meal is the Coral Reef at the Living Seas. The lights are lower and it has a lovely under-the sea feel to it that is calming. We made an early lunch reservation and were able to get seats right next the aquarium, so we could watch the fish. DD enjoyed this restaurant more than I anticipated, in part because of the lower stimulus level.

I would agree with everything the other posters have said. Prepare your son (and yourself) as much as possible; read the guide books and watch the youtube videos so you know what might interest him and what might be a trigger for him. Build breaks into your schedule so you have time to decompress. Don't try to do everything; it's darn near impossible to see it all in one vacation. Know what your must do's are and work from there.
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Old 10-03-2012, 10:19 AM   #14
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My concern with Coral Reef having eaten there twice is that the tables are packed close together. I personally won't risk a table by the tank because I don't want to take a chance of strangers squeezing up to our table, something I witnessed happening several times to guest by the tank during both of our meals there. If you're sitting in a booth then it is much more sensory friendly but the view isn't as good. If you're by the tank or against a railing then your chair backs up against another chair and there's not much space between tables so your chair will be bumped at least once as another guest is seated or gets up to leave. Overall the atmosphere really was very soothing at PP said but you need to be aware of what to watch for there.
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Multi-Allergy & Autism Dining Reviews: February 2014 * DL & LA July 2013 * February 2013 * August 2012 * February 2012 * August 2011 * August 2010


February 2014 AKL: me, DH, DD15, DD13 * July 2013 DL offsite (Tropicana): me, DH, DD15, DD12, DSD30, DSSil * February 2013 WDW Poly: me, DH, DD14, DD12
August 2012 WDW FW Cabin & AoA Nemo: me, DH, DD14, DD12, DD12's BFF11 * February 2012 WDW Poly CL: me, DH, DD14, DD11 * August 2011 WDW YC: me, DH, DD13, DD11
February 2011 WDW Poly CL: me, DH, DD13, DD10, DSD28, DSSil * August 2010 WDW POFQ & Poly CL: me, DH, DD12, DD10 * June 2010 WDW Pop: me, DH, DD12, DD9
December 2009 WDW POFQ: me, DH, DD11, DD9 * February 2009 WDW Pop: me, DH, DD11, DD8 * August 2008 WDW SSR: me, DH, DSD25, DSD24, DD10, DD8
September 2007 WDW Pop: me, DH, DD9, DD7 * April 2002 DLR offsite: me, DH, DSD19, DSD17, DD4, DD1.5 * June 2000 DLR offsite: me(pregnant), DH, DSD17, DSD15, DD2
January 1994 WDW offsite: me, DH, DSD11, DSD9 * January 1992 WDW offsite: me, DH, DSD9, DSD7
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Old 10-03-2012, 11:44 AM   #15
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My daughter with ASD (now age 9) is a sensory seeker so Disney is perfect for her but she is still bothered by crowds, waiting in line etc... She has been to WDW 6 times and each time we have brought a stroller for her. Not because she cannot walk but because sometimes SHE WILL NOT WALK and also because she needs her own defined space. I cannot stress enough the importance of the Guest Assistance Card and sticker with that allows "Stroller as Wheelchair" access to the attraction lines and seating in theaters. We wouldn't be able to do Disney without it. Unfortunately she is about to outgrow our special needs stroller and we will have to consider other options.

In all our travels NO ONE is more accommodating to children on the autism spectrum than Disney. Make sure to plan some special time with your daughter so that she gets to do and see the things that are important to her (character meet and greets etc..) and plan for lots of breaks away from the crowds either back at your resort or in less crowded areas of the parks, near closed or less popular attractions for example. Spring Break is a busy time but it is doable with some planning. We have been twice during the 3rd week in March. The cooler weather makes the large crowds tolerable, at least for our family.
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