People always talk about getting ready for a trip to WDW with their kiddos, but rarely do they really talk about getting ready with a special needs child and typical children…..
We all know the thrill of getting packed and ready for a vacation, especially a Disney World vacation. There is SO much to do and so many DIY crafts to fit in! But what about that one child in the family that can make or break the day if things aren’t set just right? Many of us have one of those, but now add-on that child having Autism Spectrum Disorder and there is way more to prep for!
We are always on the lookout for the best way to prep, and when I say prep that means when we start discussing when we are leaving (date specific), where we are going and how we are getting there! So, it is time to begin and this is how it goes in our house… Be warned, we get Disney crazy!
Six weeks before the trip we sit all three kids down and let them know a trip to “The House of Mouse” is just weeks away… are there any questions. Well, as any parent knows, there are always questions! So I will give you the Q&A in specifics. I will refer to our boys as 1, 2, and 3 to make it simple and please know that 2 has Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as ADHD.
1 – When and where are we going? Me – Disney in September.
2 – September what, where are we staying, how are we going? Me – September 25-30, Old Key West, Flying on United Airlines, the one Daddy uses for work this time boys!
2- What time are we flying? What time are we getting there? Are we on Magical Express? Me – Slow down and we will go over everything! To start you will all go to school for a half day, and we will get to Florida about 7pm. We are going on the Magical Express and you can even take a carry on with you.
3- Are we really going to Disney Momma? Me – ABSOLUTELY
2 – Can I bring my iPad? Me – Of course! Any more questions?
1, 2, 3 – Nope!
So as you can see, while kiddos have questions, my ASD child has far more specific questions and no one else gets to participate in the Q&A. While not ideal for a family of five, and always wanting to leave out the surprises, we know that just won’t work! So now that the Q&A is over, our typical kids are ready to rock and pack while our ASD child needs so much more.
With any special needs child, there are specific things to think of. So once our Q&A is over, we begin to plan! We start with a countdown calendar that varies. This is a great visual for all of the kids, but especially for our ASD child and enhances the excitement for the trip. Each day can have an activity as simple as putting together a puzzle all the way to watching parade and ride videos. Regardless of a daily activity or not we ALWAYS watch a video of the resort we will stay in so all of the kids understand sleeping arrangements. And it helps for 2 to be able to grasp in reality what is happening and going to happen.
Once we are well on our way to counting down, we next discuss the trip itself and what we have planned…. right down to bed times and transportation to the parks daily. We also like to park hop, so we need an itinerary for that as well!! This is how our first day will look…
7am – Wake up, 7:15am – breakfast, 7:35am – get dressed, 8am – bus stop for bus to Animal Kingdom, 9am – Animal Kingdom arrival. Once we are through the turnstiles it is straight on to Kilaminjaro Safari, followed by Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids, 12pm bus to Hollywood Studios, 12:25 – lunch, 1:30 Toy Story Mania followed by Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror and hopefully the parade, 5:45pm – Dinner followed by American Idol and possible Fantasmic 10pm – Bus to resort, 11pm bedtime. While times are written down, they are not the key for us, the key is following a plan, so times vary, but the order doesn’t change. As long as we have prepped for the first day and have a schedule written out for the rest and our son can refer to it most is set smoothly.
For us, our son has vision problems as well as severe sensory and spatial issues, so we use a stroller as a wheelchair and a Guest Assistance Card (GAC), which I implore people to only use if they really need it. The GAC gives you he ability to use an alternate entrance and or use of a stroller/wheelchair. Make sure that you are prepared to go to Guest Relations to obtain a card as soon as you arrive to the park if this is something you need. Fast pass is a great tool and we use it before our GAC, however we try and choose our vacation times during off seasons when crowds are less so we don’t really need either.
In a nutshell, plans always vary by family, child/children, and desired experience. Disney can be the most wonderful dose of occupational therapy for one family while a disaster for another. The main key is to remember to plan with ALL of your children in mind. Look for info that is specific for your child/children. Call Disney as often as you need to, join as many Facebook groups as you can,ask questions often and most importantly incorporate your children in your planning, especially your child that has additional needs. The magic of your vacation will know no bounds.