Vacation prep for the apprehensive child

Vacation prep for the apprehensive child Disability Guide Cropped

Have you ever watched those reveal videos of parents surprising their kids with a Disney vacation? Everyone lights up and they ride off into the sunset ready for days of fun and adventure! Those are beautiful moments for those families. Other families’ beautiful moments come about after announcing a vacation while armed with files of pictures, videos and schedules. Some children thrive on knowledge and preparation before heading into a new situation. If you have a family member that would benefit from some vacation prep, then you might find these tips helpful.

In Part 1 of this series, I will focus on preparing for the stimulants of a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation. All vacation destinations have potential stressors, but this section will focus on specific ones that could upset a child who is sensitive to conditions found in theme parks. Part 2 will concentrate on preparing children for air travel. I’ve experienced travel bliss and travel challenges when navigating airports and airplanes. I’ll share what I’ve learned to help alleviate the stress.

TIP 1:  Expose Kids To Similar Theme Park Elements

Prior to taking your child on a Disney Parks vacation, find a local destination where you can expose them to elements found in the theme parks. Many cities have museums, theaters and entertainment centers that contain stimulants such as crowds, lines, noise, dark attractions and intimidating experiences. Look at pictures of the destination ahead of time with your child to give them a sense of what to expect.

Be aware of your child’s reaction to standing in line. Waiting itself might not be the challenge, but standing in a narrow line with people being very close could be a problem. Playing “I Spy”, looking at a park map, or taking silly pictures can be a good distraction from the people around you.

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Gauge your child’s reaction to challenging attractions such as a 4D or IMAX movie, dark or loud experiences, areas with robotic figures, and fireworks. These all contain elements similar to many Disney attractions, even the ones that seem benign such as “It’s A Small World” or “The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh.” By having this experience prior to your Disney trip, you may have a better sense of what is worth trying in the theme parks and what is not worth the effort. Will a bribe such as a special treat or trinket be the encouragement your child needs to try a challenging attraction that they want to experience? Is it better to skip the dark, loud, indoor rides to avoid the likely meltdown? These are decisions that are unique to each family situation but are more easily handled with prior experience.

TIP 2:  Review A Resource for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities for The Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort

A friend told me about these excellent guides that I never knew existed. Disney clearly put much time and thoughtful consideration into preparing these documents. There is practical information on what to expect once you arrive, suggestions of what to bring, and an FAQ covering a range of topics.

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My favorite section is Attraction Details For All Four Theme Parks. This identifies the sensory elements for each attraction and will help your child know what to expect if they are not fond of surprises. Even though you may have watched videos of the attractions prior to arriving, it’s impractical to think you’d remember each element of a ride. In addition, older children might find this chart empowering as it relieves their anxiety about what’s to come. Telling a child that a ride “might be dark” can put them in a frenzy versus being able to show them definitively that a ride has dark moments. The best part is that it could encourage them to try new attractions once they see that they enjoyed others with those checked boxes. This type of concrete information is desirable to some kids.

TIP 3:  Create a Visual Schedule Of Your Vacation Days

Vacation can be an unknown, mysterious thing. Not all kids can imagine what their days will be like while away from home and this can be unsettling. The schedule I made here is a simple example and you could easily customize it to suit your needs. Create a schedule for each day that has the morning and evening routines listed, in addition to special activities for that day such as swimming, a theme park, or a special restaurant. Pictures from previous vacations, along with pictures of the new destination, can be helpful ahead of time. You might also find that pictures from home are important since not all children understand that they will be returning.

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There is so much to explore at Disneyland and Walt Disney World that foregoing a few attractions should not have any adverse effect on the enjoyment of the trip. Children that require these types of preparations are probably already facing daily challenges that can be exhausting for them. This is their vacation too and I hope these tips can help them enjoy this time with their families making magical memories.

What strategies have you found successful?

Find Liz Mroz on Twitter @BuildingDisney and Facebook.

"What fun thing should we do next?" When Liz discovered that this was the hardest question she'd have to answer on a Disney vacation, she was hooked. And it prompted her to keep adding fun to her life. Having two boys and a fun-loving husband made it easy to dive into LEGO building, Star Wars culture, and all things Disney! You can find her creating content on these subjects, as well as helping others get the most out of their Disney vacations.


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