Amusement parks can be a fun and exciting experience, but they can pose serious challenges for families with a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. With roller coasters, thrill rides, water rides, large crowds, dark theatres, bright lights and loud noises, these parks have no shortage of overwhelming sensory stimulations.
The following are suggestions to consider when thinking about visiting an amusement park with a child who has ASD.
1. Plan ahead.
Plan your visit carefully to help your child – and the whole family – have the best experience possible. Study attraction descriptions and search YouTube for videos of the rides/attractions in order for your child to have a clear expectation of what your day at the amusement park will be like. This will also be a great opportunity for the child to disclose what he or she is or isn’t comfortable with. Additionally, this will be the time to discuss what to bring along (noise-reduction headphones, fidgets, sunscreen, etc.).
2. Download informational packets and park guides.
Don’t get caught off guard! Many amusement parks offer important information that will help families determine which attractions are most suitable for their needs. These packets typically include a map of the park as well as rules and regulations, including what is restricted on certain attractions (ear protection, sunglasses, etc.), whether you can bring in your own food and drink, etc. If your child has a service dog, the packets also spell out any attractions where assistance animals aren't permitted. Information on rest areas, family restrooms and places to purchase food and beverage will also be included.
3. Use preferred parking.
If the park doesn't have parking lot trams, it may be worth the extra cost to pay for preferred parking to avoid long distances between the front gate and your car. Information on preferred parking can be found on the park website.
4. Schedule quiet time.
Be sure to incorporate quiet time into your schedule. If your child needs a quieter activity, go to a shaded picnic area or an indoor, air-conditioned area. Perhaps you can combine down time with a meal. Most amusement parks have many restaurants and food and beverage outlets to choose from.
5. Choose seats carefully.
If you plan to attend a show or an attraction that has seats of any kind, consider strategically placing your family on the end seats near an exit. Many shows and attractions at amusement parks are loud, bright and otherwise quite intense, which may be disorienting for guests who have sensory issues. By placing your party on the end seats, you will avoid having to maneuver around people in narrow aisles if your child gets overwhelmed and needs to leave.
6. Consider a stroller or wheelchair.
The need for a stroller doesn't stop at a certain age, and wheelchairs aren't just for guests with mobility problems.
7. Have a photo of your child handy.
Bring a photo of your child, especially if you he or she tends to wander off. It is recommended that you take a photo of the child on your mobile device the day of your amusement park visit. The photo can be of great assistance if you and your child become separated.
8. Don’t overdo it.
Sometimes it is difficult to fit all the attractions and events into one visit. Try to review a park map and show schedule to prioritize your must-dos. This way, if a meltdown, or just exhaustion, forces you to call it a day, you and your family won’t be too disappointed.
9. Take advantage of park accommodations.
Fortunately, many of the amusement parks in the United States have special accommodations for individuals on the autism spectrum, including: