need travel advice for 10 yr-old son with autism


Earning My Ears
Feb 6, 2002
I have a 10 yr-old son diagnosed with high-functioning autism. We are going to WDW and other Orlando attractions December 5-15, 2002. It will be myself, my husband, my autistic son, my 6 yr-old twin girls and my mom to help us with Trevor. Trevor looks normal and is verbal. He has alot of sensory issues so we need advice on how to make this a great vacation for all of us without putting him through he** He has a very hard time with crowds. Hates to be crowded, bumped into, accidentally stepped on, etc. When this happens he gets very irritable and sometimes says an inappproprite comment( "Would you watch it!") We practically die of embarrassment each time! Therefore, he comes across as a very rude,bratty child with lax parents. He also has a hard time with temperatures which is why we are going in December and hoping for mild temps and not too many guests in the park. I heard on the Disney Dollarless that he may be able to get a Guest Assistance Pass. What is this and how does it work? How do I get one? If I can get one, do guests treat you like you are cutting in line?

We are staying in a 3 bedroom condo off-site as he needs his time alone and plenty of space. My last question, (for now!) is any advice for the plane ride (about 4 hours. We are from South Dakota)? Can we arrange to get on the plane first and off either first or last? Thanks for any help you can provide.

Ann Marie
Hi, Welcome to our board. :)

If you click on the link in my signature where it says disABILITIES FAQ, you will find a couple of sections of interest to you. The section on the Guest Assistance Card or GAC is something you should read through, and also the section about travelling with sensitive kids.

One of the links in there does not work, I will try to bump the post about how to deal with staring and unsolicited comments.

You can ask at the boarding gate, they may be quite willing to accomodate you if you let them know the issue involved.

Welcome from me also.
From what I have read, early December would be a good time to go. There are not that many people and so your problems with people bumping your DS will be much less. You may find that the lines are practically non-existant. The Guest Assistance Card doesn't allow people to cut in line; it's to give you assistance that you need to enjoy the park with less stress.
We have noticed that even at busy times (like Easter), the crowds vary a lot during the day. We have seen rides that have a 2 hour wait early in the day and the same rides are basically walk right in later in the day. So, one of my hints is to avoid rides that have long waits and try back later.
For the airplane, I agree with teri. Mention it when you check in and also to the gate agent before they announce boarding. Sometimes the same staff that check you in will be working the gate. be ready to explain what problems you expect during boarding and how it would really help your family (and the rest of the passengers) if they let you board early. As for leaving the plane, I would not try to get off first. The flight attendants have trouble keeping people seated until the plan has pulled up to the gate. Just get off last; that's not a problem at all and you don't need permission to do it. If you just stay seated until everyone else is off, you can get off much more easily.
We went this past December with our 7 year old autistic son. Although all autistic kids are different, here is what was important for us

1) GAC - We didn't use it a lot, but when we needed to, it was a life saver
2) Having favorite foods with us at all times
3) fastpass
4) fastpass
5) fastpass (need I go on?)
6) Having an escape plan with who was to take him out if needed at all shows
7) Being willing to quit and head back to the resort when needed

Have a great time!
I would add another one to that list...

8. If you are brave and willing to try this... Be willing to stick it out with a tantrum if they are overwhelmed, and not leave the park too soon IF they can come to a 'resolution' phase where they zone out and shut down for a while. The reason I say this is that some autistic kids learn that the way to get out of a new (read: scary) experience is to have a tantrum. If you take them out every time, they never get over the fear of whatever it was that overwhelmed them, and next time they trigger even sooner. If they recover and habituate to the situation, then next time it won't be so bad.

Some day, when they have an opportunity to go on a field trip with their classmates, it will be much easier for everyone involved if they can cope with stimulating environments. Disney parks present a wonderful opportunity for training your kid to manage lines, go on rides, and deal with changing environmental conditions without freaking out.
I was just reading Teri's response to this thread and it is a valuable one. Often, if we can ride out a tantrum however ugly, we can stay in the parks a bit longer. When my daughter has a real breakdown, we at times have to physically restrain her(for safety and to prevent her from running away). My child will yell things like "LET ME GO!!" and "ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?". Needless to say, we can attract a lot of attention and I can sympathize with those parents who get the "if you only gave her a good spanking" look.

I have a warning based on our last trip to the MK-
I am the one who is best at soothing during emotional overload times so my husband usually stays with our little boy in line etc.. Last summer, I decided to stay in the line and my husband removed my escalating daughter. When they got to the bench, she was hollering "let me go" and several people approached my husband to determine if he had abducted our daughter. He had to scream for me to get out of line and ID our child whch I did. I'm not unhappy that people were concerned about my child's safety but I wish we had a strategy to deal with times like that. Any ideas?
Threehearts - keep a family photo in both of your wallets, in case security or police are called. I have only had to pull mine out once, about 4-5 years ago. And be prepared with a script - "My son needs to calm down, please back off now." If somebody says they are calling security, you say, "That is fine." I ALWAYS have our pediatric psychiatrist's card in my wallet. That is usually enough. These are also the reason for having a brief doctor's note on letterhead with you - not just for getting a GAC. And it is also a good use for the GAC, at the parks!
Hi Teatots88. We are also planning on traveling with our autistic son this fall, and I agree with all the suggestions so far on this thread, some great ideas. One thing we always do when going to WDW is take a break during the day. go back to your hotel and rest, swim, have one of your daily meals there. Definately bring any favorites of your son's with you but I bet you do already. Realize too that WDW is so big now you can't do everything. We are planning on doing just a small bit of the world but being able to see and enjoy it thoroughly instead of trying to squeeze in too much. I'm sure you will all have a great time and remember a lot of kids have meltdowns at WDW it is sensory overload to the max.


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