There may be many concerns as you consider taking your sensory processing child to Disneyland. I wrote a short 3-part series after our experience with Disneyland last year: Disneyland is not the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland for Dummies Part 1 and Disneyland for Dummies Part 2. In these posts I talked about our experience and provided some general advice for helping a family with their Disney vacation, but I didn’t provide specific tips and tricks for how to better navigate Disneyland with an SPD child. You should also check out the ear protectors we turned into mouse ears!
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Taking Your Sensory Processing Child to Disneyland
Rather than avoid these fun family experiences completely, I feel like my own mistakes can help families who are considering a theme park vacation. Our children need help to overcome their specific challenges in life – we all have them. Tackling the issue straight on while equipping our children with tools to help them be successful only leads to growth in these area.
I’m not saying every family should go to Disneyland. Perhaps a quiet, sunny beach is more your style. However, for those who really want to make Disney part of the childhood experience, I want to provide resources that will help.
Tips and Tricks for Helping Children with SPD Do Disneyland
Mentally Prepare Your Child
This is something we did not do well. We surprised our children the day of the vacation. Just watch the YouTube video to see the excitement.
While there was so much fun in the surprise, I think it would have been good to better prep my SPD child. Of course, this can be done after the surprise. For my child, the visual cortex of the brain is highly developed. For this child to know what to expect is very important. Show pictures. Look at maps. Create a plan (see my Disneyland for Dummies 2 post). Talk about the sites, sounds and tastes they might experience. Prepare them that they might feel overwhelmed and ask what they think they might need to help while there.
Take a Sensory Tools Backpack
I hope you saw my sensory tools for children post. This provided many tools that can help fill a sensory child’s bucket. By having these tools available at the park, a child can better help regulate themselves among the stimulus at the park. Provide weighted lap pads, fidget tools, hearing protection ear muffs, and chew necklaces. I wish we had taken noise cancelling headphones so I could put on some piano music as we strolled through the park, eliminating the noise stimulus completely. A weighted vest may have also been helpful. If your child is sensitive to smells, give them an essentials oil necklace diffuser with a scent like peppermint, which is good for headaches.
Take Sensory Breaks
Another thing I wish I had done better was to take sensory breaks. My attitude was, “We paid to be at Disneyland. We’re going to be at Disneyland. We are going to pack in as much of the park as we can in the next few days.”
I came to realize we would have been much more successful if I was more flexible with this ideal. Head back to the hotel room for a rest. Get that quiet, calm environment. If some kids are still completely engaged in the park and don’t want to leave, have one adult take the sensory child back to the room while the others continue to play and explore.
Pool time tends to be very calming for my child, so we could have taken mid-day swim breaks.
Booking a Disney hotel would make these breaks more convenient.
Take a Stroller
We debated whether or not we should take our stroller. After all, our kids were older – 5, 7 & 9. I cannot tell you how happy I am that we had our double BOB. The kids got tired and all of them took advantage of the ride. I loved having a place to keep all of the things we brought into the park.
The stroller ended up being a lifesaver for our sensory child. You would often find this kid with the sun visor pulled all the way down to provide a little cave of retreat. To eliminate sounds with the noise cancelling headphones and sights with the stroller shield can be very beneficial.
Bring Your Own Snacks
This was a tip from a reader who was participating in my Facebook live introduction to this series. My child does not struggle with food and textures, but many SPD kids do. My child does benefit from having regular calories, keeping blood sugar up, and park food can be expensive. By providing your own healthy snacks that you know a child likes and is familiar with can be life saving for both the pocketbook and the comfort of a child with sensory issues.
This was another piece of advice from my Facebook live friend. My children didn’t have much of a desire to wait in lines for the characters. However, my sensory kiddo does benefit from the body pressure of tight squeezes, so maybe this should have been considered. If your child also loves the sense of pressure on their body, these character hugs can be really helpful in filling their bucket.
Check Crowd Predictors
Crowd predictors for Disneyland aren’t always accurate, but will provide the best resource for knowing the size of crowds. Smaller crowds are much better for a child with sensory processing disorder.
Choose Rides Carefully
When first taking a child with SPD to an amusement park of any kind, it is best to start with the least stimulating rides first and work up from there. Our child loves to spin, but sudden dips like those on a roller coaster weren’t good. Even the Cars ride, which is fairly mild, provided a sensation that was not enjoyed. Star Tours was a hit because it was in a dark spot with no outside stimulus front the rest of the park. It will take some time to know what rides will and won’t work for your particular child. Split up if necessary.
Take advantage of the “rider switch” program. Here is how Disneyland describes it, “If a child does not meet the height requirement or a Guest does not wish to board a particular attraction, no problem! With Rider Switch, one adult can wait with the non-rider (or riders) while the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. When the other adult returns, they can supervise the non-riding Guests, and the waiting adult can board the attraction without having to wait in the regular line again!”
Be flexible and communicate. My child was able to communicate that on the last day at the park it would be really life giving to spend time with me alone, shopping. We had given each a small budget. Shopping! Not really my thing, and definitely far from how I’d spend time in Disneyland, but I had to let go of my own agenda and selfishness and love my child well. Walking through each shop, considering the items, picking things up, feeling them, and setting them back down was soothing. The magic shop on main street was particularly interesting to my child.
Your child will know when they are beginning to feel overwhelmed, especially if you have worked with them on knowing how their bodies respond to stress. Some will get restless legs. Elevated heart rate might plague another. Some might become to feel warm or sweat. Help them stay in tune with their body so they can let you know when it’s time for a break. Watch for the signs yourself!
There might be times you have to jump out of line because they begin to feel scared or overwhelmed. We tried to find the balance of pushing them to try new things and yet being sensitive to their individual needs.
Taking Your Sensory Processing Child to Disneyland
Just because your child has SPD doesn’t mean you cannot do Disneyland successfully. Being aware, as a parent, that you might face challenges is half the battle. Once you and your child are mentally and tangibly prepared, you can have a lot of success.
A Week Series on Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder is obviously complex. There’s no one shoe that fits all solution. That said, there are commonalities found in SPD kids, and we want to provide you with some resources this week.
Here’s what the week is going to look like:
Wednesday – Sensory Processing Tools for Children
Thursday (today) – Taking Your Sensory Processing Child to Disneyland
Saturday – How to Pray for Your Child with Sensory Processing