When traveling with Special needs family members, generalities don’t work. Simply because our kiddos are special. What works for the majority of kids, would be disastrous for ours. So, please take these words and apply them as they apply to your family!
If you are planning a first-time trip to an amusement park (like Disney or Universal) and have a Special child, it can be daunting. My very best advice is to be patient and prepare to throw out the plans and go with the flow! That doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time, and it doesn’t mean you can’t get a lot done. It just means it might not be on YOUR schedule.
I admit, this was something very hard for me to get comfortable with! I am a big-time planner! I had turn-by-turn plans. I knew how long it should take to get from point A to point B. Our first trip to Disney was perfect! But by our second trip, our world had been turned upside down by my son’s accident. We went from having a fun-loving, outgoing, active three-year-old to a four-year-old little boy who was barely able to talk, walk, and had the emotions of an 18-month-old.
That second trip taught me a lot!
First - it taught me that Disney is GREAT with kids with Special needs! I got my first experience with the old GAC pass. It became invaluable with a kiddo who did not understand waiting. It helped with the fact that we could use the stroller as a wheelchair, and take it into the lines.
Second- it taught me that Disney understands meltdowns! They have cameras everywhere, and I was concerned that someone would think I was hurting him while he was screaming and fighting me as I sat on the ground at Magic Kingdom holding him in a basket hold to prevent him from hurting himself. Instead, after the meltdown passed, a CM came to me and asked if I was OK. Several managers had witnessed the meltdown and the way I handled it. I was on camera the whole time. That alone gave me a sense of security!
Third - it taught me that schedules were meant to be loosely followed. VERY loosely! By the second day of a weeklong trip, the only thing that stayed on the schedule was our dinner reservation!
Each subsequent trip taught me a few more things. Like if Mr D had music on his iPod he was happy and content. If the battery ran down he was a very unhappy boy! So we always brought a backup battery charger and cords! We also learned that giving him choices helped a lot as he got older. ‘Do you want to see The Tiki Room or go ride Splash Mountain?’ Or maybe ‘Do you want to see Finding Nemo before or after lunch?’
Our perfect park day plan included things like two or three rides/attractions that each member of the family wanted to ride/do, where we were eating dinner, and a few options for lunch. Some days, we would go back to the room after lunch for a nap or swim, some days we would stay in the park and he would nap in the stroller.
That is not to say that Everything needs to be done to please the Special child, but everything needs to be done to take into consideration the special child’s needs. For us that meant options. When our son went through a phase of having to ride the Tower of Terror and Rocking Roller Coaster back to back to back, it meant one parent did that with him, and the other parent took his sister and went to another part of the park for a few hours. (Usually, to see Little Mermaid, something he had zero interest in). Sometimes it meant a break, or a nap, while he had a mini meltdown while Mom sat with him and Dad took his sister to ride.
We always carried his favorite portable snacks in small baggies. Everyone knows a hungry toddler is a cranky toddler, but not everyone sees the large six-year-old as a toddler. We also kept a sippy cup ready for those drinking emergencies. Some favorite ‘fidget’ toys were kept in another bag. (yes, this was way before fidget spinners!) Because even though the waits were shorter with the GAC pass, there were still waits that were long enough for him to get upset. Keeping him occupied, kept us and those around us, much happier!
So, as you are reading this, you are probably saying, “This is stuff I already know!” Yes, and that is my point! You know your child. You know what they need. You know there are times that you choose to time your shopping trips when someone else can watch them because it is simply easier.
When you go to Disney, you need to think ahead to these things that you would take with you to keep your child entertained and happy on an extended shopping trip, a long trip to Grandma’s house, or maybe even a trip to the doctor’s office.
You need to understand that, depending on the child, there will be meltdowns. Prepare for them. Don’t panic. Handle them the same loving way you handle them at home. If you need to sit down in the Middle of Main Street and hold them in a basket hold, do it! (just try to get to a safe place so you aren’t trampled) Just know that you aren’t the first parent to have to do that! Also know that once it's over, forget it and go on.
Now that you know that, let’s start with a basic list of things we will need to know and do before we leave. A basic list of things we will need to take with us on the trip. A basic list of helpful tips to get us through the trip and still manage for everyone to have a Magical time!
If you have stayed with me this far, I appreciate it! Next week we will start on our next installment of Traveling to a Theme park with a special needs child. I’ll pass on a few ideas and tips I’ve learned through the past 19 years as a special needs mom and the past 11 years as a Travel Professional who has specialized in planning Family trips to theme parks and cruises with special needs family members. But I also want your input. Please, either comment below, or send me an email with your suggestions, questions, or ideas. I want this to be a resource for YOU.
Next installment: Pre Travel Prep!
Most of the content is written by people at JMorris Travel. Every once in a while we will have a guest blogger, usually it is part of our 'family'.Always with a nod to Family Travel!