Disney With Special Needs: Using Sensory Conditioning

1937160_956375807784555_3097809399366517831_nYou’ve made it through the planning, you selected the Walt Disney World resort that is right for your family, and now you are actually getting ready to walk through that magical train station into the Magic Kingdom. Yay! You have arrived!

Now what?

Making that first walk (or, let’s be honest, that hundredth walk) into the parks is a thrilling experience, but it can also be a tad overwhelming. You are suddenly inundated with the fully immersive universe that is Disney World and it might immediately be a bit much. Don’t worry, though. Remember, we are the super heroes here. All those Marvel guys have nothing on us. You’re going to get to smell all the layers wafting out of the Confectionery, be able to pick out your favorite song in the music loop after your first day, and will probably be the first one in your group to see that Hidden Mickey. All you need to do is pack your utility belt with a few simple tools to get you through when something starts to get to you.

My suggestion for your first super tool is…

Use sensory conditioning.

Many families report that Disney World is the place where their Aspies are the most comfortable and even experience exciting firsts such as a child smiling for the first time or an adult being able to walk around a theme park alone for the first time in her life (true story). As wonderful as it is, however, there might come a time during your vacation when you walk into the World of Disney store, realize just how huge and crowded it is, and get disoriented, or end up on a bus from the resort that is so full the person beside you sits on your hair for the entire ride to Magic Kingdom (also true stories).

When this happens, a bit of subtle sensory conditioning can make a tremendous difference. Start a few weeks or months ahead of your trip and condition yourself to a sense of calm and security in response to specific sensory. I have three basic go-to coping mechanisms that I use in the parks that help me focus and get through tough moments much more easily: honey-lemon cough drops, the smell of my husband’s shirts, and my husband rubbing my ear.

They are fast, easy, and portable, and no one looks twice when you pop a cough drop in your mouth and lean in for a cuddle with your hubby. What’s great about this is I actually use this method in reverse when I’m at home. Anyone who has stayed in a Value Resort at Disney World knows the bright orange smell of the bath products. This smell immediately brings up happy, relaxed memories of my trips “home”, so I smuggle home my leftovers and breathe in their scent when I am having a tense moment and need a bit of calm.

Now you have your first super tool. The next thing that any super hero needs is a lair where you feel comfortable and at ease. 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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