Recommendations for Sensory Needs?

cainnbrainn

Earning My Ears
Joined
Jun 7, 2024
Hi!

My partner and I are visiting WDW later this year. We're both very neurodivergent and have different sensory needs. Sensory overload doesn't affect me terribly much, but it affects my partner badly. Lights and sounds are what tip us both over the edge. While we're both bringing sunglasses and Loop plugs, I know overload is inevitable. Any recommendations for managing it at the parks?
 
Take breaks or plan for transition time to go from one place/ride/activity to the next.
Look up "quiet places in Disney world" or something similar and take a list with you.

Keep in mind that listening to your body is more important than getting your money's worth. So, no shame in leaving the park early.

Keep an eye on show times, shows like Mickeys Friendship fair come with music and fireworks. If you know when they are, you can go in the opposite direction.

For fireworks in Magic Kingdom, you can also see them from outside the park, like the beach at the Polynesian.

Think about Uber or Minnievans to avoid the buses. If you have the funds, of course.

Request a room away from the busy areas like the pool or lobby.

I personally prefer noise cancelling head phones over plugs, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway is loud.
 
Take breaks or plan for transition time to go from one place/ride/activity to the next.
Look up "quiet places in Disney world" or something similar and take a list with you.

Keep in mind that listening to your body is more important than getting your money's worth. So, no shame in leaving the park early.

Keep an eye on show times, shows like Mickeys Friendship fair come with music and fireworks. If you know when they are, you can go in the opposite direction.

For fireworks in Magic Kingdom, you can also see them from outside the park, like the beach at the Polynesian.

Think about Uber or Minnievans to avoid the buses. If you have the funds, of course.

Request a room away from the busy areas like the pool or lobby.

I personally prefer noise cancelling head phones over plugs, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway is loud.
Thank you so so much! These are really good ideas.
 
I like a sensory/fidget toy to distract myself with. I have one clipped onto my lanyard so I don’t lose it and it’s super easy to grab and play with. I also have my loops case on it. I find sometimes that I still need my ear defender type headphones. One of the worst things for me is the CM shouting to “Fill In All Available Spaces” at the top of their lungs. So I tend to wear the ear defenders in line and can easily take off for the ride.
 
Hi!

My partner and I are visiting WDW later this year. We're both very neurodivergent and have different sensory needs. Sensory overload doesn't affect me terribly much, but it affects my partner badly. Lights and sounds are what tip us both over the edge. While we're both bringing sunglasses and Loop plugs, I know overload is inevitable. Any recommendations for managing it at the parks?


First and foremost, there’s a secret that no one *ever* talks about. But I’m going to talk about it openly here, because I think it’s important.

There is no such thing as a ”perfect” Disney trip.

(hopefully, they don’t take away my Certified Disney Adult™ status for that… LOL)

What I mean is this: We *all* tend to have this fantasy that we will arrive at WDW, and somehow every thing will be perfect, every day of our stay, and every interaction will be magical with every human we see. When it’s time to take the perfect picture, no other Guests will block the shot. The food will look *better* than the menu pictures, the rides will be better and longer - and with no lines! The sky will be bluer… The air will be brighter! Oh. Wait. That’s not reality.

That’s a Disney TV commercial.

We tend to forget between trips that last time we had that horrible churro that was just all kinds of wrong, and that Small World broke down halfway through, leaving you with a horrible ear worm for hours. We don’t remember that Starbucks ran out of nitro cold brew, *and* there were no cupcakes, either. And we forgot about all the Guests who were horrible, the buses that were late, and the CMs who were less than magical. Our memories betray us when we are planning for our next trip.

So, your very first strategy is to not stress about the “perfect” trip - because it can’t ever happen. Yes, it might look like that family over there is having a “perfect” Disney moment, but you don’t know their reality - and it’s *your* reality we are focusing on.

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Now, let’s put technology to use:

Everyone in our family has an app that we keep on our phones, called "Emergency Chat". (Available for both iOS and Android) The logo for it looks like this:

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It's an app that will let you text with someone when you are too overwhelmed to speak.

You can customize the opening screen (shown below) to help give the person you are communicating with more information.

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You "text" with the other person, by handing the phone back and forth so you don't have to try and talk when you are not comfortable with speech in the moment. It's just a tool to have ready (like knowing that you can use First Aid at the Parks) in case you need it.

Download it (it’s free and no ads - available for both iOS & Android) and put it on the first screen on your phone, where you can find it easily. Practice using it before the trip, so you feel comfortable with it.

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Our anxiety is often made worse by things like hunger, pain, or discomfort. So self-care is *super* important! Make sure you stay hydrated, cool and comfy, and then you don't have those issues to deal with on top of anything else. (it's amazing how many people go to WDW and wear uncomfortable/hot clothing and terrible shoes). Remember that the *average* Guest will walk about 3 to 10 miles *per day* at WDW, so good shoes are not optional! And this is important: NEVER WEAR NEW SHOES TO DISNEY WORLD. Bring shoes that are broken-in *and* comfortable! As my hubby loves to say "It's Disney World, it's not a fashion show!" 😂

There is a First Aid station in every park - if you get too stressed, you can always go there, and ask for some help. They have cots to rest on, and are staffed by medical professionals. One of my family members in particular finds that taking a couple of Tylenol, and resting quietly for 30 minutes is often a great "reset and refresh" for them. Tylenol (for reasons I don’t understand, but am deeply grateful for) literally ”turns down” their central nervous system to a level that is manageable for them. Don’t leave home without it!

Take along a clean, cotton bandana, (pack one for every day of your trip) and keep it folded in your pocket. You can dip it in cold water, and put it on the back of your neck if you need to cool down quickly, or fold it and put it over your eyes if you need a visual break. If noise is a regular trigger, consider bringing along some noise-cancelling headphones along with your Loops.

Some people find that a lightweight hoodie (with the hood up) helps give them a sense of security. Other folks like big oversized sunglasses for that purpose; those kinds of things can give you a place to retreat to without needing to move at all.

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We have a couple of family members who have anxiety that may presents in a very specific fashion; our (now adult) daughter is one of them.

When we are in WDW, we make sure that we can create "safe spaces" for her if need be. If she gets overwhelmed, or if she begins to feel too anxious, we can make a family "bubble" around her. If the bubble is not enough, then we know that we can go to First Aid for a little while until she is ready to continue on. And if she has to go back to the Resort room? Well, it's still OK, because we are still at Disney World! We can still have Mickey Waffles in the morning and we are still all together as a family! If the worst thing that happens on our trip is that we don't get to see the fireworks, it's OK. Believe me, I will trade you a trip to WDW without fireworks any day over sitting at home! 🙂

Our family always tries to remember that if that (insert your worst fear about your WDW trip here) is the *worst* thing to happen on our trip, will we still want to go? Will we still have fun? Will we still make wonderful memories? As long as the answer is always "yes", then we go, armed with every strategy that has ever worked for us.

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Some of our daughter's personal coping strategies have evolved over time; here's a few of the ones that seem to work best for her:

Make sure that everyone in your traveling party knows you may have an anxiety or panic attack Most of the people you travel with probably already know, but If you haven’t traveled with someone before, tell them in advance - don‘t wait until you are in trouble.

Remind your travel party that *if* you do have an issue, you will be stopping wherever you are, and whatever you are doing to try and manage that, and bring it under control. Don’t worry about anything else; focus your energy on what you can do in that moment. Lots of folks get deeper into trouble because they “dont want to be a bother” or they tried to hide their anxiety for too long, and it got away from them. I give you permission to be “selfish” in this moment. It’s important.

When you start to feel anxious, try to stop wherever you are, and do a self-assessment to see if you can identify what's going on before it escalates. (Obviously, this means possibly stepping out of line, or getting out of the flow of people, or leaving the table during a meal). Knowing *what exactly* is triggering can make a difference because you can respond more appropriately and effectively.

If you can identify what is causing the feelings, and manage it, then do so, and continue on as soon as you can. (example: This QS dining area is crowded and noisy. I can take my food, and find a quieter spot, even if I have to sit on the ground a small distance away)

If you can identify what is causing those feelings, and you have no control over it - Then stay put until you can safely determine next steps. (example: There's too many people on Main Street because fireworks are about to start. I can't make them go away, but I can find a less crowded spot, like down by the train station to watch the fireworks, or I can leave the Park)

If you can't identify what is causing the anxiety, (it's generalized, or there are too many possible causes) but you *can* determine next steps, then move on to that next step. (example: I'm really stressed, and I don't know if it's the heat, the people, possible dehydration, or JTMD (Just Too Much Disney) for today, but I *can* leave the Park for a bit, and see if I feel better.)

if you can't identify what is causing the issue, *and* you can't determine next steps because it's too overwhelming, then send a 911 to one member of your family or travel party (whoever you feel most comfortable with in that moment). Typically, 911 means you and 1 other person go back to the Disney Resort Hotel directly, do not pass Go, so that you can have some time to recover. The 911 persons' job is simply to help you back to your "base" and make sure you have whatever you needs, like cold water, or a dark room to lie down. On occasion, just getting out of the Park for a bit may be all you need, and you can go back and rejoin the group (like after walking out to the buses and back, for example), but other times, you may need time at your base to fully recover.

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I know that these strategies might not work for you, and that's OK. It's just how our family members with anxiety disorder cope. The thing to try and remember is that although no trip will ever be "perfect" (because it *can't* be, there are other humans involved!) you have amazing tools and resources available to you to try and resolve as many issues as possible before you even leave for Florida! One of those is right here, in this forum. We can't fix everything for you, but we can sure give you ideas to try, and support.

I'm sure that a lot of people have told you "Don't worry! It will be fine!" and for them... it is, but y'all are working to find ways to manage your personal situation - so that you don't have to worry so much about your trip. For some people, that comes from certain concrete actions, and for others, it may be that other strategies are required. Regardless of how you arrive at a point where you feel more confident, please know that you are not alone in the world.

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At our house, "normal" is a setting on the washing machine. Nothing more.

It's taken a long time for some of our family to get there, but we have learned to embrace our differences, and find our "Superpowers". I was talking recently with our daughter about this very thing; what she perceives as anxiety is what I think of as being Super Sensitive Girl, Defender of Emotions! She feels things stronger and more acutely than other folks. Her cape is made of the softest microfiber, and it's warm and cuddly like a hug.

Pfffftttt... "normal" is boring.

I hope y'all have the best trip possible, and you come back and let us know what worked for you.

Stay cool.
Stay hydrated.

XOXOX Mamabunny 🥰
 
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It's already been said, but I can't emphasize enough the planning of breaks, eating regularly, staying hydrated, etc., and making sure to do/stay on top of those things before you actually feel the need for them (for myself, by the time I recognize the need it is already too late). Not staying on top of these things makes my ability to withstand other sensory input even worse.

Plan where you stay carefully, and choose a resort/place that will be quiet. If you are on property, I highly recommend POFQ if it is in your budget. It was very quiet/free of sensory input, and my request for a top floor/quiet area within the resort was easily met.

Watch POV ride videos before your trip. Some of the rides themselves might be problematic for sensory overload, so you will know what might need to be skipped and/or done only right before a break. Btw, the queue for Winnie the Pooh was horrendous for overload :/

The others already gave lots of good suggestions for managing the overload/finding quiet areas in the park.

I usually wear a baseball cap pulled down low, and high decibel ear plugs. Use what has worked for you in in your personal life - familiarity will help.

Also, be flexible and willing to change plans if what you are trying to do isn't working. It does really stink to not be able to do what you want/planned, but there are so many things at the parks that if you are flexible you will be able to find something different that works for you that is equally awesome.

And most importantly - have fun! Explore and enjoy the things you are able to do, and don't sweat the things you can't.
 
There is a ton of great advice already in this thread so I’ll just add a couple of things I’ve picked up from doing the parks with my son.

First and foremost - if you have “safe foods”, absolutely bring them with you or make sure they’re available in the parks. Your all star, top of the grocery list, safest of the safe foods, lol. For my son, overstimulation makes eating harder and then he’s overstimulated and hangry. Foods that would usually be ok fall off the list.

Don’t shy away from using electronics in the park if that’s a way for you to tune out everything else and reset. A favorite phone game or whatever can really help.

Nothing wrong with riding the B list rides… honestly they’re super charming and deserve more love. The experience with lines and impatient people getting too close is sooo different on the railroad or steamboat (although the steamboat whistle is quite loud). Also, World Showcase in the morning before the crowds arrive can be awesome!

Since you’re going as a couple - just recognize that you might be agitated and irritable at the end of the day. Maybe be ready to step out for a walk alone or to be understanding if your SO is being irritable. It’s neurological over-excitation and not something either of you can help, so just remember that.

Best of luck! Hope you have an amazing trip!
 
First and foremost - if you have “safe foods”, absolutely bring them with you or make sure they’re available in the parks. Your all star, top of the grocery list, safest of the safe foods, lol. For my son, overstimulation makes eating harder and then he’s overstimulated and hangry. Foods that would usually be ok fall off the list.
Thank you for posting this - you just helped me realize that this also happens to me. I was already aware of the opposite (not eating/drinking enough making sensory overload more difficult to manage), but this connection here totally makes sense and explains things I've experienced myself. I hadn't even thought of the cause/effect in this direction!
 
Everyone in our family has an app that we keep on our phones, called "Emergency Chat". (Available for both iOS and Android) The logo for it looks like this:
You have made an amazing list, thank you for creating it!

Question: why would you use this app over other texting apps? What makes this one different?
 
You have made an amazing list, thank you for creating it!

Question: why would you use this app over other texting apps? What makes this one different?

That's a valid question!

Primarily because if our daughter (for example) finds herself separated from us, and needs to speak to a Cast Member... but *can't* because she is in the middle of a melt-down, she can start the app, and show the first page (where it explains she can't talk right now, but she wants to text using this app) to a Cast Member, and it let's them know she needs to communicate using the app right now.

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(You can edit this text to say whatever you want in the Settings)

The app works like a regular texting app - except you hand the phone back and forth while communicating. So, for example, the first person to type will use the text bubbles on the right side of the screen, and the other person is using the text bubbles on the left side of the screen.

1718358434886.jpeg

In a place like WDW, where there is so much sound - so many layers of music, and human noises, and sounds from rides, squeals from children, babies crying... during an anxiety attack when she might not be able to parse verbal communication with/from another person, she can manage to text, and focus on the words. Typically, even in the worst moment for her, she can still text and make her needs known. So, the app works very well for her.

I hope that helps answer the question for you! 🙂
 
Definitely take breaks and stay fed and hydrated. Loops are great, but maybe bring back up earplugs in case you lose one. Also, research attractions in advance to be sure that you will be comfortable. (I have a seizure disorder, so anything with strobes is right out. DS has ASD, so no loud noises without warning. DH has inner ear stuff and can’t do most roller coasters.) Don’t go on an attraction that “everyone is talking about” if it is outside your comfort zone. I have never been on Flights of Passage and that’s OK. The First Aid station is a good respite area. We also have quiet attractions that we visit when we need a little break like Hall of Presidents and Tom Sawyer’s Island at MK or one of the shows at DHS or AK trails. Also, if there’s an attraction that you won’t be able to experience, there’s no shame in just doing the pre-show staging area. I have never been on Tower of Terror, but I have walked the entry area just to see the design. Also, we had a successful albeit expensive fireworks experience when we did a fireworks cruise. We were far away enough from the noise and crowd, but still had a great view of the show. Anyway, best of luck and have a magical trip!
 
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I recently posted this to the new DAS thread. It may help with some planning.

SENSORY EXPERIENCE DETAILS

A new document to help guests plan is the Sensory Experience Details. It covers these items for each attraction, show, parade, fireworks, etc. at WDW - including all 4 theme parks and Disney Springs:

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As other have said make sure you eat drink and rest I tend to forget to do these things until it is too late and I am in the middle of a melt down. so one thing I do to prevent this is I set an alarm on my phone ( or I do every X amount of rides) where I find a quiet place and have a me time where I think about am I hungry, tired, thirsty, over stimulated, extra. then I think what do I need to do. eat, drink, take a sensory break for a while.
 
As other have said make sure you eat drink and rest I tend to forget to do these things until it is too late and I am in the middle of a melt down. so one thing I do to prevent this is I set an alarm on my phone ( or I do every X amount of rides) where I find a quiet place and have a me time where I think about am I hungry, tired, thirsty, over stimulated, extra. then I think what do I need to do. eat, drink, take a sensory break for a while.
This is a really great strategy - thank you for sharing! I think I am going to try this my next trip to Orlando.
 
mamabunny, thank you for your post, this will help a lot of people.
For our daughter it was importent to know what will happen.
She watched all rides on youtube including the queue part, also walkthrough video 's of 2 hours per park.
This helps to start the day more relaxed.
For her e.g. space mountain is hard, it's a lot of noise and lighting is also an issue. Well don't ride it or only try it as a last ride when you still feel great. If you don't know this and you ride it in the first two hours then this can make your day a lot harder.
Mid day break also helps.
 
















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