Disney with Special Needs: Expect the Unexpected

10644286_940080739414062_6970172962227794158_oI am going to be upfront with you…my family is a bunch of theme park people. We love them. We are very lucky to live in a place that is less than an hour from two of the most popular not-in-Florida theme parks on the East Coast and just a couple of hours from many others. If you checked out our collection of season passes you would find that we are card-carrying pass holders to nearly 30 individual parks. So with all of these theme parks all over the place, you might ask, why the need to prepare so much for just another theme park?

The simple answer is that Disney World is not another theme park. And before you say it, it isn’t another four theme parks, or six if you want to count the water parks, either. Disney World is an experience. So while the parks are technically theme parks, a day at Disney World just cannot be compared to a day at another theme park. Even if you are not rabid park-goers like we are, you mostly know what to expect when you visit a theme park. A visit to Disney World, however, brings with it things you may never have anticipated.

This is why today is all about how to…

Expect the unexpected.

Part of the magic of Disney World is how immersive it is. This means it is important to be prepared to encounter sensory stimulation you might not have expected. For example, if your Aspie is sensitive to smells, like my brother is, be sure to read up on all of the different smells used throughout the parks to create the experience, such as the cotton candy and cookies you’ll smell on Main Street U.S.A., the fruit and gunpowder effects in Pirates of the Caribbean, or Rome burning in Spaceship Earth. Have you ever seen a scented parade? Visit Magic Kingdom around Christmastime and you just might. The smells are not oppressive, and it is truly amazing how they make experience of the park flow from one land to another, but they can be a bit surprising if you are not ready for them.

Likewise, many rides have periods of very bright colors, such as the tunnel in Space Mountain, or loud sounds, such as in the introduction to Haunted Mansion. Knowing that these are coming, or at least are a possibility, can help you to prepare with your favorite coping mechanisms, such as a pair of noise-canceling headphones to calm the sounds, or an extra shirt you can use to block out smells. Another great way you can help to limit your exposure to potential triggers is to get a GAC, or Guest Assistance Card, from Guest Services. This card will identify your particular need and allows you to limit the time that you spend standing in line. Just show it to the Cast Member at your chosen ride or show and they will give you a time to return so you do not have to stand in the queue for as long, or offer an alternative entrance that lets you wait in a quieter, less stimulating situation.

If you ever have a question about a particular sensory trigger that might exist in a particular experience, don’t be afraid to ask a Cast Member. You can also visit the official Disney World page and read the description of that ride or show. These descriptions have information about common triggers such as darkness and drops so you can get an idea of what to expect.

So now that you’ve started thinking about your trip and feel more confident about it, it’s time to get down to the concrete planning…starting with the big question: where should you stay? We’ll talk about that next time. 

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Taryn was born and raised, and still lives in Richmond, Virginia. Neither she nor her husband ever had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World when they were children, but when their daughter Avalon came along, they decided she was not going to follow in their footsteps. They brought Avalon for the first time when she was 3 and have been hooked ever since. Now along with Taryn’s mother and equally Disney-loving older brother, they go “home” at least once a year, and by the time she is staring longingly at Cinderella Castle from the ferry on their last night, Taryn is well on her way to planning the next trip. As a group consisting of two adults with Asperger’s, including one who is also vegan, a very accommodating husband, an only child, a senior, and a service dog, they are a pretty special family, but Taryn is excited to show that the World really is The Most Magical Place on Earth and that there is a place there for everyone. When she isn’t thinking about her next Disney adventure and trying to come up with a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party costume that will beat her Oozma Kappa nerd look, she is a professional blogger and novelist, but Taryn also likes to indulge her Disney passion on her Etsy shop Baby and Toto, Too.

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