After meltdowns from our son with autism every time we had to leave the house when he was younger, we used your tips for introducing special needs children to the idea of traveling, and it has worked so well that I think we are finally ready to start visiting theme parks. Do you have any particular Walt Disney World one that you can recommend? Thanks, Julia.
I’m so glad to hear about progress for your family.That’s great! Your question is a good one and one that I have been asked on some occasions. I have to say that all Disney parks excellent at accommodating special needs and disabilities for both adults and children.
Therefore, the way to choose between them will depend on your child’s specific sensory issues. With that said, I will try to highlight the pros and cons of visiting each of the four main parks in WDW.
Since you didn’t specify your son’s age or if you have other children I have to say that the Magic Kingdom has the best indoor and outdoor options for all ages. It also has the widest selection of rides from mild and slow to moderate.
For those who don’t like to or can’t walk a lot, it is ideal because the rides are relatively close together. If you like the outdoors, they have the Liberty Square Riverboat and Tom Sawyer Island which is fun to explore. If your son prefers to stay indoors, there are shows like the Country Bear Jamboree and Mickey’s Philharmagic. The sensory issues he might encounter are noise and darkness, but with headphones and some light from a mobile phone, he will hopefully be okay.
Visitors should be aware that the Magic Kingdom is the most visited of all Disney parks. With Disney’s new program for autism, visitors have to go to the ride they wish to experience, and the staff gives a slotted time to come back. Because of the popularity of the park, these waits can be long. Areas like Main Street are also more crowded than the other parks, so that’s also something to consider for kids who hate crowds or are noise sensitive.
Hollywood Studios has more extreme rides which cater to an older age group.
Unlike the Magic Kingdom which has parades, Hollywood Studios offers more stunt shows and live stage performances. This is THE park for kids that love thrill rides and can’t get enough of being twirled upside down or sideways.
Also, it is the best place for kids that love movies and are fans of Star Wars. Overall, between the riders’ scream and night fireworks this park is the noisiest, something to bear in mind if your child is noise sensitive.A good time to go for kids with autism is in the early morning when they first open since the park gets more crowded by midday and evening.
If you and your kids prefer exotic souvenir hunting and tasting ethnic foods, then Epcot with its variety of international pavilions is for you. I have found that Epcot has been a great way to introduce children with autism to different cuisines and cultures in Disney form. It also has rides which are similar to the other theme parks and again, noise-sensitive children need to take that into consideration.
A highlight is the Park’s firework show IllumiNations: Reflection of Earth, which can be seen from almost everywhere in the park. As our son is noise sensitive, we’ve discovered the best spot to watch the show was from inside the restaurants in the Unite Kingdom pavilion.
The Animal Kingdom
If your family likes the outdoors and learning about animals, then The Animal Kingdom will be right up your alley, providing none of your family members are smell-sensitive. The park features a great scavenger hunt, a live stage production of The Lion King, and an interactive bird show, all of which we have found to be entertaining.
Moreover, the Animal Kingdom is now open in the evenings. This fact might be a bonus, though it is still the least lit of all parks and some kids might find it scary.
Once again, I’m thrilled you’ve decided to take a leap of faith and travel with your son to Walt Disney World. I hope that once you have had the opportunity to research and visit each park, you will be able to make a choice that suits your family best.