This month’s ‘Ask Margalit’ question comes all the way from South Africa via e-mail.The writer, a mom who would like to visit the US theme parks with her child on the autism spectrum, is asking for tips on how to accomodate her son with his sensory challenges.
My name is Marietjie, and I’m from Bloemfontein in South Africa.
My 11 year old son has autism and loves all sorts of sensory experiences even though he communicates with sounds, not words. We won a prize to visit Walt Disney World and we are so excited. As we have never been to anything like this before, it will be entirely new.
Do you have any suggestions and advice for us?
Thanks so much.
What a wonderful opportunity for you and your son.
Theme parks are one of the places my son loves to go to, and we have traveled to quite a few as a family. In fact, we attend the yearly Travelingmom retreat at WDW every April.
Since each visit and theme park present a learning experience. I am happy to share the following tips with you.
One of the most important things in my opinion is safety and security so my tips will reflect this.
When my son was younger, I was concerned that he might get lost so I made sure he was dressed in bright and bold colors making him stand out. I took pictures of him each morning in his clothes for the day so that we would be able to display a recent photo for recognition, in the event that we became separated.
You mentioned that your son doesn’t use words; I would recommend using a temporary tattoo with his information and maybe a picture App like TalkRocketGo for cell phones that help users ask for directions.
On the same note, there are GPS apps like Life360 that can pinpoint your child’s whereabouts.
Even now that our children are older, as soon as we get to the park we still arrange a meeting place in the event that someone gets lost or there is any other emergency. We all take a picture of the meeting point so we have it on our phones.
Clothing is the next ‘big’ problem
The next issue for me is practical and weather-related– clothing.
I always avoided loose-fitting and baggy clothing, accessories like scarves, hats and gloves and things with strings; anything that could get caught or fall or make him trip.
You didn’t say what time of the year you will be traveling and which theme park but if your son has sensory issues like mine does, bring your chosen brand of insect repellant and sunscreen and a set of extra clothes to change into if he gets wet.
I also recommend closed shoes , not flip flops as some rides have a moving platform to entering and exit from.
Map your trip out!
I always did as much research as possible about the park that we would be visiting to educate myself to prepare my son. He always felt more secure knowing about each of the rides and knowing what to expect meant that there was less chance of being overwhelmed and having a meltdown.
Make sure you make note of bathroom locations (bring duct tape to cover the automatic sensor if he is scared of automatic toilets) and quiet spots to take refuge in if the ‘going gets tough.’
I always say that being proactive is so important.
I have done my best to make my son be part of his own safety and security by teaching him about the different security features on the rides.
Seatbelts of course are extremely important. They should be kept ON the whole duration of the ride.
I had to remind my son to not stick his hands and feet out of the ride and not to touch anything.
He also needed to be told to be polite and not kick the seats in front of him.
It’s important to heed the rules of the park and know that you can rely on the staff’s guidance because they are there to help.
So, these are my tips in a nutshell.
Of course you are more than welcome to go through the website posts and find so many other tips that I have shared throughout the years.
I hope you have a fantastic and fun visit!