DCL and Child with Autism

Discussion in 'Disney Cruise Line Forum' started by chelleharper, Oct 2, 2013.

  1. chelleharper

    chelleharper Earning My Ears

    Oct 2, 2013
    My DH and I are in the process of planning our first cruise with our DS (4) and DD (2). They will be 5 and 3 at sail date.

    My son has been diagnosed with Autism. He is high functioning and has some sensory issues (very loud noises, large crowds). We opted for the cruise over the parks for these reasons.

    Can anyone tell me what kind of assistance they provide to children with special needs? I am a true novice when it comes to DCL and I want to be sure I do as much "homework" as I can prior to cruising. TIA!
  2. Makayna

    Makayna Something brought you here, Flynn Rider. Call it w

    Apr 19, 2011
    I'm not very familiar with what accommodations they can make for you on board. But one thing you might want to consider is on the first day, before the ship sails, the horns can be quite loud.

    I'm not sure how your son is with sitting with others at dinner, but if that's an issue, you may want to request your own table, but that may not be possible because they only have so many small tables, and will seat you with others if they have to. You may have to provide medical documentation proving that it's necessary. Again, I don't have much experience with that. Good luck, and I hope you have a wonderful cruise!
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  4. Weedy

    Weedy DIS Veteran

    Jun 2, 2008
    Disney is a wonderful cruise and your son will have a great time.

    For any special request, certain foods, a table with just your family Disney has a Guests with disabilities department call 407) 566-3500

    As the PP said the ships horns can be loud but they will make an announcement before they blow the horn.

    For the Sail Away party if you go up to the deck above the pool deck you can enjoy the party and it is not as crowded.

    For the kids clubs and the pools children need to be potty trained.

    Try the pools early in the morning ( the Mickey slide opens at 9am) or after dinner. The become kid soup from 11am-4pm

    The kids clubs will have Open Houses everyday ( for about 1 hour) so you can go into the club with him if he needs you too.

    When going to dinner wait to go until a few minutes after your reservation time. There will be less crowds.

    For the shows all the seats are good, you may want to sit in the back of the theater. It will be easier to leave a few minutes before the show ends because it is VERY VERY crowded at the end of the shows.

    Try and use the stairs the elevators can be very crowded. Also avoid the midship elevators, theses are always crowded.

    Have a great cruise.
  5. PrincessShmoo

    PrincessShmoo DIS veteran

    Feb 12, 2009
    I have no actual experience with this, but I can report what I've read here.

    DCL cannot offer any one-on-one assistance in the kids clubs.

    Oceaneer's Club/Lab (ages 3-12) can be pretty overwhelming, depending on the cruise. If there are a lot of kids onboard, there will be lots of kids in the club. And, remember, there could be children up to the age of 12 in there.

    I will point out that Oceaneer's Club and Lab will offer Open Houses (usually 1 or 2 hours once or twice a day) in one or the other location. During those times you can accompany your child into the club area for them to enjoy.
  6. lbgraves

    lbgraves Little Cinderella's Mommy

    Feb 25, 2003
    The only other thing I can think of to warn you about with noises is the muster drill alarm. It is much louder in the staterooms than out on deck. Be sure that you get to the muster station early to avoid that.
  7. boogabuzz

    boogabuzz DIS Veteran

    Aug 31, 2011
    My 12yo stepson has autism. Honestly, I couldn't imagine taking him on a cruise. Not now, and not 6 years ago. I'm pretty sure he would be miserable. Way too much stimulation. He doesn't do too well outside of his normal routine. And other than locking ourselves in the stateroom, there is nowhere else to go.

    DCL is GREAT at accommodating...but sometimes that's not enough for a child with autism. You know your child better than anyone. Have you taken him on any other trips to maybe see how he does outside of his routine? I honestly can't see where a cruise would be any less stimulating than the parks. Per square footage, you're dealing with equal crowds. Elevators tend to be packed. The atrium can get quite busy and the pool decks are loaded down during the day.

    I hate to discourage you from cruising, but I'd also hate to see an autistic child go through something that could be traumatic to him. Again, you know your child's likes/dislikes better than anyone. Certainly there have been plenty of autistic children who have cruised...maybe there's a parent on here who can give you some better insight.
  8. 1025cruise

    1025cruise Mouseketeer

    Aug 6, 2013
    There is a company called Autism at Sea. They do offer their own cruises, where they have their own staff on board, but they also provide assistance to those not on one of their group cruises.
  9. braysmommy

    braysmommy DIS Veteran

    Dec 10, 2010
    My DS has sensory processing disorder and anxiety and loves to cruise. He used Peltor ear protection during muster drill, sail away party and fireworks on our first cruise.
    Another thing that helped him was to watch A LOT of DCL YouTube videos ahead of time so he knew what to expect.
    We cruise on longer itineraries so that the kids clubs are less crowded and part to make it easier for him. If your DS finds it overwhelming they do offer open house times where you can go in with him and play.
    With some planning I am sure you will have a great time!
  10. Rogue1230

    Rogue1230 Waiting to sail away on a dream

    Jan 27, 2011
    My DS 6 was very close to being on spectrum and we just got back. He still has sensory issues so I can sooo relate. We had a good time, but there were some pit falls.

    We will be going back and here is what I learned.

    Sail away party? Go to deck 12 and avoid the crowd- we will be doing that this time to avoid the melt down.

    Kids club has a "quiet movie room" that can be hung out in and is not terribly noisy- that being said it is not a closed off room so there are outside distractions and noises.

    Muster? Warn your child about the coming noise- there is a PA announcement just before or report early to the muster station.

    Meals? I would certainly explain that strangers and routine are sticking points for your child and you would like to dine alone if possible- chances are they will accomodate. Dinner still not working out? Ask to have it "to go" and they will packed up for your room. And there is always room service/quick service that can be enjoyed in a quiet place either in room or in a quiet place on board.

    Shows- sit in the back... not much you can do about that.

    Excursions? Castaway? other than storms that roll in, that can be as boisterous or quiet as you like.

    OH and my saving grace? ON board activity?????? MID SHIP DETECTIVE!! this can be done just you and your party at your own pace and can span several days if you like. You can also do a scavenger hunt on board, I have one and I am sure there are others that can be provided. Please feel free to PM me and I can send it to you.

    Try to relax and enjoy your cruise.:wave2:
  11. moosecrouse

    moosecrouse Mouseketeer

    Feb 8, 2012
    2 things I remember from travelling with my nephew -
    1) His parents mentioned to CM about his issues with crowds prior to the muster. They allowed him to stand off by the elevator lobby and it made it a more bearable although alarms were annoying for him.
    2) At the time he would only eat chix strips & fries. Family was very worried because if he didnt like the taste or texture he would refuse to eat. Luckily he loved the strips served at the fast food on top deck. First night at dinner his parents ordered him chix strips & fries from kids menu. He ate fries but not chix so his dad went topside to grab a plate of strips. Our matrie D saw him walking back into dining room with plate of chicken and asked why.
    After he explained the situation we were told not to worry & that each night they would have a plate of strips waiting for him. The funny thing is he started eating bacon & pizza on this trip and has become a more diversified eater since.
    Main thing is to ask. Staff is very helpful & accommodating. If its possible they will do it.
    Enjoy your cruise.
  12. lanejudy

    lanejudy Moderator Moderator

    Oct 27, 2011
    The kids clubs really do not provide much in the way of "accommodations" -- if your DS is high functioning and used to being in group settings (preschool, etc.) then he likely will be fine. If he typically needs a 1:1, that won't be provided nor available unless you accompany him to the Club during Open House times. Certainly explain his needs to the CMs - attend Open House on embarkation afternoon, be with him as he explores the space, speak with the CMs about your concerns. Adults (even parents) are not allowed into the kids clubs space except during scheduled Open House times (these will be indicated on your Navigator, usually at least once a day).

    For mealtime you can request a table for just your family, otherwise you might be seated with another family with similiar age kids. This may or may not be a concern. If he has specific food preferences, tell your waiter and they will make sure he can have the same food each night even if it's not on the menu that night. If his food preferences are unusual (not something typically found on a menu), you might want to bring it if possible. But the wait staff will try to make something work for you.

    Noises are everywhere, sometimes loud, sometimes occurring unexpectedly. Does he use noise-canceling headphones? You'll want to bring them.

    Research excursions. This might be your trickiest area depending on his needs and issues.

    There are quiet areas around the ship if he's getting overstimulated. CMs and characters are usually great at following the kids' cues for interaction -- if he prefers to wave from afar, that's what he'll get; if he's shy to approach, they won't pressure him or invade his space.

    You know your son best. It's possible for children with autism to have a wonderful experience on a cruise. It's also possible for it to turn into a family nightmare if it's truly not the best option for the child. Since you are planning ahead and doing the research, I'm sure you'll make the best choices for your family. Come back and ask specific questions as they come to mind.

    Enjoy your cruise!
  13. DLgal

    DLgal DIS Veteran

    Feb 12, 2013
    My two sons have Autism. We have been on the Dream twice. My kids love it, for the most part, but we had to make a LOT of concessions about what activities we would do (namely, none) and how we spent our time (mainly, on the pool deck).

    First off, they watched a LOT of DCL You Tube videos, but ONLY the ones specific to the Dream. If they see something on the video, it better be the SAME when they get on the ship, so I made sure they didn't watch Magic, Wonder, or Fantasy videos. They liked the cabin tour the best.

    My boys are both swimmers, and they could not get enough of the Aquaduck, pools, Mickey Slide, Nemo's reef, and spa. They would have spent all day in there if they could.

    We also used Peltor earmuffs for our younger DS during the muster drill. Necessity.

    Pirates party and fireworks: Worked for one son, the other son would have NOTHING to do with it. So, DH stayed with older son, and me and younger son retreated to the room.

    Having a verandah or LARGE porthole window room is essential for us. The kids really would zone out staring at the ocean. It was a good therapeutic "wind down" for them.

    Walking out on deck was something our older son LOVED and our younger son HATED. The wind bothered the little one and he couldn't tolerate being on deck when the ship was moving.

    We watched some movies in the theater, but needed to have earplugs due to the loud volume.

    One of our sons liked to be dropped off at the kid's club, but he would only stay for maximum 1 hour before he wanted to be picked up. Younger DS would not go without DH or I (so we took him during open house).

    Since communication is a problem for our older son, when we dropped him off at the kid's club, we put a little handwritten note in his pants pocket. It said "I'm ready to leave now, can you please call my mom and dad?" When he wanted to go, he would simply hand the note to one of the CMs in the club, and thus he didn't have to worry about starting up a dialogue in a loud chaotic environment. Worked wonderfully!

    However, the cell phone system if NOT very reliable. On both of our cruises, we experienced situations where the kid's club staff had called our wave phones, and we NEVER got the messages. The first time, it was drama, drama, drama. Younger DS was melting down BADLY and we had no idea. That is the reason why younger DS won't let us drop him off anymore. So, lesson learned: check on the kids every 20-30 min. Just walk by the club and make sure you don't hear your child screaming his head off. ;)

    In general, on our first cruise, we spent a LOT of time in our room, watching movies on the On Demand system and letting our sons play their gameboy/ipod touch. Whenever we take a vacation to somewhere "new", there is a lot of time at the hotel, or in this case, in the cabin. One of our sons liked to explore the ship and look at the art. The other just watned to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

    I will say, our first cruise was only about 50% full. It was at the tail end of August and it was very nice. Second cruise, close to 100% FULL. HUGE difference in crowds. In particular the buffet was intolerable to our older son. Meltdown city. It was rough, but we made it through. Next time, I will just have the kids sit with DH while I run up and get their food, because the huge amount of choices and the people just milling all around the food areas were very stressful for our kids.

    We only saw ONE show, Believe. The kids tolerated it because we made them, but they kept asking when it would be over. Just not that into stage productions. For the rest of the cruise, and our subsequent one, DH and I switched off going to the shows at night.

    We did have our own table, both times. I simply made the request when I booked the cruise on the phone and mentioned it was due to Autism, and our kids would NOT make dining pleasant for strangers and we didn't want to ruin anyone's dinner. We were accommodated both times, even on a very full ship. If you aren't accommodated with a private table, the Maitre'D can usually switch things around to do so. They won't require any documentation, but you really should tell them it's due to Autism and not just your personal preference.

    We basically didn't do ANY of the activities in the navigator until our second cruise. DH and I did a martini tasting and attended a quiz in one of the bars. BUT, we could only do that because my MIL came on the cruise.

    Lesson learned there? Bring another adult with you! Like a grandparent or aunt/uncle. That way, you and your husband can do some things together too.
  14. TLLCanada

    TLLCanada Mouseketeer

    Mar 6, 2012
    We traveled last year with DS, then 7, with autism. Most would say he is pretty high functioning for an autistic child (he does not have Asperger's).
    Much of what i could tell you has already been said. But what I will say is that Disney did such an amazing job with my guy that we are headed back in November for our 2nd cruise. When the child is in tears because he doesn't want to leave the kid's club because he is having so much fun it is worth it.
    My son has noise issues and there was only one thing that bothered him on the whole cruise- the ship's horn- which truth be told, drove me nuts too. It is LOUD!
    WRT the kids club- the CMs were very good with my son. They definitely do not do 1:1 care, but they did keep an eye out for him and encouraged him to participate in various activities.

    We traveled concierge and I think that really helped us. We had a nice quiet area to sit out in (practically deserted all the time) and he would take a book or his ipad and sit up there with us before supper each day as his wind down time. We were given our own table so we didn't have to talk autism to a bunch of strangers.
    The best time on the cruise truly was in port days. We stayed on the ship and my boys had the run of the Aquaduck and the pool. On sea days we did the Detective agency, saw the movies, etc. We let them swim before noon on those days, but honestly, after lunch on sea days the pool is so crowded it isn't worth it.

    If you have noted it in your reservation, special services will give you a call 2 weeks before your sailing.

    If you have any specific questions, feel free to pm me :)
  15. Irishgrl

    Irishgrl Mouseketeer

    Nov 4, 2011
    My son will be 4 on the 17th and we will be cruising on the 26th and he is high function Autism also. I'll let you know how it goes when we get back. I'm worried too about something. My biggest concern is that he won't be able to use the kids clubs since he isn't 100 potty trained.
  16. lyzard77

    lyzard77 Earning My Ears

    Oct 7, 2013

    We just got back yesterday from the Disney Dream (3 nights). My 4-year old Autistic son is not potty trained. They allowed him in the kids' club as long as we came by every 30-45 minutes to check on him and change his diaper (if needed). He really liked it. There are lots of different rooms to escape to and explore. He is sensory seeking, but adverse to some loud noises (crying, clapping). Ironically, he also likes to make lots of loud noises. Good luck to you and your family!
  17. crisi

    crisi DIS Veteran

    Feb 25, 2002
    I don't have an autistic child but -

    The buffet during lunch and breakfast can be very full and hectic - the MDRs that offer those meals are usually MUCH quieter - or eat early/late - or think about room service - its (for the most part) free. If you board immediately you can't get into your room and EVERYONE is in the public areas or the buffets - its one of the most crowded times on the ship - have a late breakfast off the ship and board a little later - the buffet will be open for a few hours, and the food counters near the pool only close for the drill.
  18. Jakejosh4

    Jakejosh4 Mouseketeer

    Dec 30, 2011
    Hi we were on the Fantasy earlier this year and no DCL don't do anything special for children with Autism. My son is 8 and high functioning but hates loud noises and huge crowds of people in a small space. We asked about priority boarding and was told no, we asked to be sat on the edge in the restaurants this did not happen. Our servers were great at meal times and had the food ready for him as he only eats certain food and drink. CMs in the kids clubs were great and we had to drag him away each night. We would definitely do it again as he says it was the best time ever
  19. d3boyz

    d3boyz swimmin' with the fishes!

    Apr 1, 2005
    Our second son has Aspberger's as well. The first cruise we took, the boys were 8, 5, and 4. Our autistic son also does not like loud sounds and crowds, and MUCH prefers consistency in his schedule. We were concerned, but like you, thought the cruise would be much better than the parks due to limited numbers.

    I'm glad we were on the Wonder since it's one of the smaller ships ... and with the fewer numbers of passengers, it did help. Our autistic son was reluctant to leave us but with his younger brother at his side, he felt comfortable in the clubs. At that time, the clubs were set up in particular age brackets. Will just went into the younger club with Tom, and all was well. I spoke with the counselors who had contact with him so they were aware of his idiosyncrasies, and knew what to do for him in most cases to help him successfully navigate the clubs, and to try to interact with the other children. His older brother was also permitted to 'pop in' to check up on the younger ones. The little boys, while NOT fond of Jack's hovering in the usual settings at home, were supremely happy to see him from time-to-time in their club. They had a sense of being 'big boys' as well as having the familiarity of their older brother around ... and actually told Dad and Mom that they were fine and didn't need US to check in with them!

    As for the horn and the sail-away party, we use the ear protection headsets most often seen at airports and car races. Will wears those whenever he's around loud noises, and it sufficiently muffles the noise level for him to tolerate it.

    The consistency issue was a little trickier because he was now in an unfamiliar bed, with unfamiliar smells and noises, and with a completely destroyed schedule. As for the bed, I brought the satin-type of bedding to use so he could sleep, and the soft, microfiber blanket he needs for comfort. (He has issues with how clothing, etc. feels on his skin, and still does to this day!) It did wonders to help him transition to an unknown place. The kids' clubs had itineraries at that time (I should say this is 13 years ago ... but I'm sure they've only IMPROVED the process by now), and I could prepare Will for what would be happening, and at what time. This helped him cope a lot. Even at 5 years old, he could understand enough of this to give him a sense of balance.

    All said, the autistic boy did amazingly well because of Disney and the counselors' willingness to accommodate him. The modifications needed were minimal, and Will never seemed to notice that anything was different for him than for any other child there. It really was the start of his 'main-streaming' that continues to this day. It's incredible to see where he is now as compared to then ...

    All the best to you and yours. You will certainly be pleasantly surprised at how your son grows and matures despite the autism!

  20. barbarasc

    barbarasc CruiseCrazy

    Jan 3, 2010
    Let me start by saying you know your child best and make his comfort first and foremost :love:

    My daughter Jen is almost 25yrs and she has been sailing for YEARS! We will board the Fantasy for our 14+ DCL cruise. We also cruise other cruise lines and have for years. Jen has a long list of issues both physical and intellectual and Autism is on her list. When cruising there are things we keep in mind. Routine in important and we stick to the same routine on the ship that we follow at home, same breakfast cereal, same drink (we bring her cup from home), same snacks, same same same, it gives her comfort knowing what is coming next.

    Noise, Noise, Noise! Yes there is a lot of it. I contact the special needs department and ask for a dinning table nearest the doors and NOT in the center of the room, this leads for a quick get-away if needed. If you have to dash off before dinner is over the servers are more than happy to send your dinner to the cabin with the hubby......ours always made sure I have extra desert!

    Muster Drill - Ear Pugs! the foam kind that you roll between your fingers to make small and then expand once in your ears work very well. Tell the muster station folks and that you would like to be dismissed before the crowd and explain why and they will be more than happy to accommodate.

    Cabin, if you need extra padding on the bed (my daughter has back issues) request that from the Special Needs department too.

    Speaking of the cabin, we do spend a lot of time there my daughter needs extra quiet time, so a cabin with a verandah is perfect for us, she gets the quiet and we still get the view!

    as a side note ~ my Jen LOVES to cruise, to see her is amazing to us every single time! She is happier on the ship than she is at home!!!! :cool1:

    Take a risk you may be pleasantly surprised!!

    PM me if I can help!
  21. jjje

    jjje One time I saw a guy wear cut-off jean shorts to d

    Nov 13, 2012
    My son was 12 when we took our first cruise and I was a little worried about how he would handle it since he has Asperger's. He did awesome! The noise got to be a bit much for him at times but he carried around ear plugs and put them in when he needed them. He does have some food aversions and at home we work on them but we told him in advance that on vacation he could eat whatever he chose with no interference from us. To our delight and surprise on his own he picked a more varied menu than he eats at home. He really enjoyed the shows (he used his ear plugs) and had a great time playing various family games. He even won at Who Wants To Be a Mousketeer? His only problem was that there was a group of unkind kids in the Edge so he didn't get to enjoy the club as much as he had hoped. He liked the counselors in the Edge but said they didn't really help him out when he needed it. (One cast member did go out and do a scavenger hunt with him when the other kids wouldn't let him go with them. :thumbsup2 to that guy!) For the most part he did the entire cruise without any special accommodations. He can't wait to go on the next cruise and he says now it's his favorite kind of vacation.

    (Oh, I forgot to add that we were on an 8 night cruise and the new routine and environment were a little tough for him to adjust to for the first day or so but I think he was having so much fun that he forgot to be super anxious and once he got the routine down he did well.)

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