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Planning a Disney Trip With Sensory Processing Precautions

By Tara Delaney, MS, OTR/L

By

The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book

These Disney tips come from the Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book

Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks

[Reprinted from the book The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book by Tara Delaney, MS, OTR/L. (Copyright © 2008 Tara Delaney; published by Sourcebooks. Reprinted with permission. This article may not be reproduced for any other use without permission.)] Compare Prices

Q. How can I get my sensory-sensitive child ready for a family trip to Disneyland?

A. A child with sensory processing difficulties is going to need a lot of "stimulation protection" so that the trip isn't traumatic for him and the whole family. Here are some pre-trip recommendations:

  • Try to schedule your family trip during the off season.
  • Consider staying an extra day and making all the days at the park shorter (most young children do better with shorter days anyway).
  • Prepare him through pictures and a promo video that talks about Disneyland.
  • Walk him through what it will be like going to the front gate. Talk about all the people who will be walking around (such as at the mall). Talk about the characters that are at Disneyland, but tell him that he may only see a couple of them because they are not all there every day. (This is important for children in general, since they lock into what you have said. So if you said, "You will see Mickey, Ariel, and Pluto," your son may fixate on that and be very upset if he only gets to see Pocahontas!)
  • If your town has "mini-carnival" type places, take your child there and explain how "Disneyland is like this, except bigger and noisier."
  • Let him help pack his suitcase for your trip (start several days ahead of time).
  • If additional family members are going, make sure to talk to them about your child's needs so that they will understand when he needs to "check out" from all the commotion.
  • Remember: There is a fine line between preparing your child and talking the trip up too much. Be careful not to build it up so much that when your child doesn't experience it the way you said it would be, he feels let down or that he has let you down.
While you are there:
  • One of the biggest difficulties sensory-sensitive children have in a place like Disneyland is handling the noise and visual information coming at them all at once. Bring sunglasses and earplugs that your child can take in and out (bring an extra pair in case they get lost).
  • When you get there, quickly identify a couple of spots that you and your child can use to escape to if he is feeling overwhelmed. Let him know that "you have staked out the place" and there are a couple of safe spots. The best quiet places are the higher-end restaurants. The two of you could just sit in a booth and order a drink for a break.
  • Avoid the rides that involve a lot of movement along with visual and auditory input (tunnel-type rollercoasters). If your child insists, make sure to have the earplugs ready and a bag just in case he gets nauseous.
  • Bring some sour, chewy candy so that if he starts to sweat and becomes nauseous, he can suck on something that will relieve some of this reaction.
  • Make him suck on a lemon drop while waiting in line, but tell him to spit it out before getting on a ride.
  • Consider bringing his favorite light jacket or sweatshirt (regardless of the weather). This could be his "escape" jacket for when he has had enough.
  • If you can afford it, stay in one of the hotels on the grounds so you have a close place to take your child if he is done for the day before everyone else is ready to go.
  • Consider bringing some squeeze toys for him.
  • Put all the "emergency gear" (sensory stuff) in a small backpack and let your child know what's in there.
  • Make sure to continue some of the sensory exercises that he does daily at home.
  • Have fun!

[Reprinted from the book The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book by Tara Delaney, MS, OTR/L. (Copyright © 2008 Tara Delaney; published by Sourcebooks. Reprinted with permission. This article may not be reproduced for any other use without permission.)]

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