Going To A Theme Park With Your Sensory-Challenged Child

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Going to a theme park like Disneyland is a fun activity that my husband and I thought we had to give up. We found out before James, our firstborn, turned one year old, that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. From what the psychiatrist has told us, we know that it is a high-functioning form of autism. It entails that he will most likely be able to go to a regular school and do a lot of things that non-disabled kids do. However, noises and visuals can overwhelm him, so it is a challenge to take our son to crowded places.

Laurent Mottron, MD, PhD, and Jacob Ari Burack, PhD, noted, “In contrast to the common notion of autism as simply a disorder of social development with one or more specific impairments related to understanding and participating in reciprocal social interactions, more current conceptualizations are based on the notion of a condition that involves complex patterns of atypical processes, especially in the areas of perception, attention and motor development.”

While James was watching cartoons on TV one time, though, he showed an interest in theme parks. He was mesmerized by the colors on the screen, as well as the rides that other kids were riding. I asked his doctor if James could go to Disneyland, and I was glad to know that it could happen. What made me happier, though, was learning that the said theme park has sensory support services in place for guests with disabilities. The simple explanation about it is that they will give your child a Disney’s disability card, which will act like a Fastpass and keep you from waiting in lines for hours.

Still, before allocating one weekend to a theme park adventure with the entire family, there are a few things that you should remember.

Prepare Your Sensory-Challenged Kid Beforehand

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Your primary agenda is to make sure that going to Disneyland will not be the first time that your child will be around a lot of people. As a test, you may take them to a natural park near your house. If they don’t react adversely to it, you can try bringing them to a mall. Though the sensory-challenged kid may not get used to the setting entirely, they will not freak out when they see a crowd at least.

Learn About Every Attraction Early

Knowledge is power, especially when we are talking about the rides that your child can try. Most theme parks have websites that you can visit these days, and they provide information about every attraction that they have. You should read about all of them to figure out which ones to avoid.

Pick The Least Busy Time

It is always best to be at the theme park as soon as it open. The benefit of doing so is that you can ascertain that a guest assistant will be available to help you throughout the day. You can also make sure that the entire staff knows about your child’s disability. This way, no one will try to shake their hand or talk to them, regardless of how friendly the characters may be.

In her book, “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight,” Sharon Heller, PhD, tackled the sensory processing disorder experience. She wrote, “People with a severe case suffer hair-rising sensitivity to barely noticeable stimuli. A gentle hand on their shoulder can feel like a claw if you suddenly pat their back.”

Take Your Child’s “Must-Haves” With You

Going to a theme park can make your child susceptible to different trigger factors. Not to mention, their exhaustion can increase their crankiness over time.

As explained by Aimee Piller, PhD, OTR/L and Joseph Barimo, EdD, MBA, CCC-SLP, “When the nervous system is in a state of high alert, attention is difficult, and a child’s frustration tolerance tends to be lower.”

To prevent an episode, therefore, you should bring noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to shield them from the sounds. If their sense of sight gets overwhelmed easily, feel free to bring sunglasses, too.

Final Thoughts

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You are not a bad mom or dad for allowing your disabled child to do what they want, even if it is technically against protocol. As long as the doctor allows it, then there is no reason for you not to take your beloved son or daughter anywhere.

Good luck!