Visual PlanningIf you're like me, you have notebooks filled with flights, hotel reservations, notes, travel times and just about everything else when you are making your travel plans. But, if your children have additional needs like mine, then sometimes those written words don't translate into travel prep for them the same way they do for you. Try a visual guide or social story that shows them exactly what is happening. A few things you might want to include:
- A map that shows the journey from your home to your destination. Try also marking local, familiar places on the map so they can understand the scale of your trip if traveling a long way. For instance, it is 2 hours to Grandma's house marked with a colored dot, and 10 hours to drive to Walt Disney World, marked with a different dot.
- Add in images of where you will be going and where you will be staying. I like to include resort photos and room pictures from websites, as well as anything that might be relevant, like a hired car or buses. They need to know that this might look and feel different from what they are used to at home, and that is okay.
- Include social story pages that depict what sensory input they might experience such as, some rides may be noisy, but they won't last long, and you can cover your ears if it is too much for you. Or, we will be walking a lot outdoors on our park days, so it might feel extra bright when leaving dark rides or shops into the sunlight - we can take sunglasses to help our eyes adjust.
- Add an itinerary for each day that shows them what the plan is and when things are happening. Be sure to add a bolded line in on every page that says something like - these plans may change; this is a rough idea of what we will aim to do today - as some children will get fixated on the schedule and struggle if you deviate from it.
Watch Ride VideosRide videos on YouTube are a great way to help prep your child for some of the experiences in the parks. While they may not have a fear of scary rides in general, you can help them understand that they can expect a loud noise here or a flashing light there. Simply knowing that the drop is coming on Tower of Terror and that after a few up and down motions, you will come back down, or exactly when during the Splash Mountian ride that big slide at the front will occur, can save a lot of nerves and make them feel more in control. Most kids are great at letting you know if they are interested in the experience you are showing them. Be guided by them, and don't push it if they react poorly to the video. The real-life experience is sure to be much more intense, and has the potential to throw off your entire day if not well received. Another option is to leave your more questionable rides until the end of the day when you could make a quick exit if things go awry without missing out on everything you had planned.
Set Realistic ExpectationsThis one is hard, and applies to you as much as it does to them. Prepping our children for the unexpected is just as important as showing them the sights and the sounds of where they are going. The sudden dread you feel when the ride you are waiting for breaks down or the character line you are in closes off before you meet your favorite princess can feel so much worse for a young person who doesn't understand what is happening. Make sure that you discuss these things ahead of time, and reiterate them over and over while in the park. Doing so will help keep expectations in check, and if disappointing moments like a weather-related fireworks cancellation or a ride closure right as you're about to board do occur, it isn't hitting them like a ton of bricks. Now it is time to prep yourself for the Disney days ahead. We want everything to go well and tick off all the boxes on our to-do list, and sometimes it can be hard to see the signs of needing to leave early and not try to push your luck a little bit further. Our last trip to the Animal Kingdom was cut short when I saw the clear signs that my daughter was dysregulating and needed to be in a more structured environment to regain her composure. That meant that we needed to leave the park on our last day and the only day in that particular one. I could have pushed her further, yes. Right out of her comfort zone and into distress, and yes, it would have checked a few more of those boxes. But I have learned the hard way that my Disney days are about quality, not quantity. So, we went on our way. Understanding your limitations as a family or group is incredibly important when planning your vacation, and even though you can often be tempted to pack as much in as possible, sometimes the smoother route is to play it safe and leave something for next time. Getting out of the parks before the going gets tough can help you to both avoid a meltdown and keep all of your days on track for an enjoyable vacation.
Are you planning for other needs, mobility challenges, or disabilities?No problem, The DIS has many great contributors and articles that can help, such as these:
- Walt Disney World on Wheels without DAS - Meaghan Lyndaker
- The Other Dis… Disabilities and a Disney Vacation - Jill and Anna Power
- Everything You Need to Know About the Disney Disability Access Service Card - Unity Bowling
- Taking On Disney with Fibromyalgia - Monique Sheppard