By Amanda Morin
For some kids with sensory processing issues, a trip to a theme park can be overwhelming. But there are things you can do to make it easier and less stressful. Here are some tips to manage some of the sensory challenges of theme parks.
Many theme parks—and the fan sites devoted to them—publish information about when parks are likely to be most crowded. If possible, try to schedule your trip for “low-attendance” days. The less crowded it is, the less likely your child will get bumped into or touched by other people.
There may be more people around than your child is used to—even on low-attendance days. Prepare your child by doing some “theme park practice.” Take her to the mall on a busy weekend to practice walking in and navigating crowds. Also consider spending time at an arcade or a place like Chuck E. Cheese’s to help her get used to the sounds and flashing lights.
Some theme parks provide sensory information about each of their attractions. For example, Walt Disney World has a detailed guide you can download from its website. It breaks down everything from flashing lights and smells to how long you’ll be in the dark. Call or email the theme park’s disability services office to ask if it provides these kinds of ride details. Knowing them can help you anticipate challenges for your child.
Tell your child what to expect from the rides at the park, from waiting in line to where she’ll sit and what she’ll see and do during the rides. Show her videos that take her through each ride. (If the park doesn’t have official videos, you can probably find fan-made ones on YouTube.) That way she can make a list ahead of time of rides she’d like to try—and be prepared for what she’ll encounter.
Large groups of people and loud ride noises may bother kids with noise sensitivities. Keep a pair of ear buds or earplugs in your park bag. Noise-canceling headphones can help, too. Also, bright sunshine or flashing lights can be hard on kids with visual sensitivities—so have a pair of sunglasses handy.
Check with the guest services office on your way into the park. Many theme parks have programs in place to help guests who need some extra assistance. Even if there’s not an official program, there may be ways to make the park a little less stressful for your child. For example, there may be a quieter space to wait in line or special areas where you can go if your child is overwhelmed.
For some kids who are sensitive to touch, a friendly hug or handshake from a favorite character may not be fun. While you’re waiting to meet and greet, speak with the staff accompanying the character. Explain your child’s sensitivities and provide alternate ways to interact, such as a wave or a high five. The handler can pass that along to the character when it’s your turn.
The crowds, smells and sounds of fireworks and other special events are upsetting to some kids with sensory processing issues. Before you skip these events altogether, explain your concerns to some of the staff. They may be able to suggest some “secret” spots that have a great view but are farther away from the commotion.
It can be tempting to try to get to all the rides and all the shows. But that might be too much stimulation for your child. Consider having each family member create a list of top three “must-dos.” Once you’ve done all of them, anything else will be a nice bonus!
Traveling with kids can be tough no matter what. But sensory processing issues can add some unique challenges. These troubleshooting tips can help you anticipate your child’s needs and avoid vacation meltdowns.
Whether you’ve planned the vacation of a lifetime or are just heading to Grandma’s for a long weekend, letting your child help prepare for the trip can get her excited in a positive way. It can also help reduce stress. Use these tips to help your child get ready for a great vacation!
A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Bob Cunningham, M.A., Ed.M.
Mar 14, 2015
Mar 14, 2015
My Kids Won’t Stop Fighting in the Car. What Can I Do?
10 Tips for Helping Your Child Prepare and Pack for a Trip
10 Tips to Help Kids With Sensory Processing Issues Avoid Travel Meltdowns
How to Plan a Vacation That Works for Everyone
Quiz: What Type of Trip Is Right for Your Family?
8 Great Vacation Ideas for Super-Active Kids
@ConcernedParent: We're so glad you found them helpful! The Disney site is relatively new and wasn't around 10 years ago--maybe it can help you plan your next trip.
I wish I would have known about the Disney site 10 years about. All of these helpful hints and knowing what to expect before we got there would have been so helpful to have prevented sensory overload. Thanks so much for the information.
@dfh: That's a great tip! Thank you for adding it.
Don't forget to take a photo of your child, before entering the park!
This way, heaven forbid you get separated you will have an up-to-date photo (including the day's clothing) that the police can circulate via smartphone to each other and get you all back together quickly.
How they created paths to success with learning and attention issues.
Find out the types of tests available, and what skills they assess.
These free, printable graphic organizers can help kids break down math problems.
A mom, who has auditory processing disorder herself, shares what she wishes others knew.
Dec 10th at 10:00 am
He went from struggling student to inspiring the next generation.
A college student with dyslexia shares how she uses dictation (speech-to-text) technology to help.
Which is causing your child’s trouble with math? Use this chart to compare the signs.
How to make sure your child gets services and accommodations.
Sign up for weekly emails with helpful resources for you and your family.
This email is already subscribed to Understood newsletters. If you haven't been receiving anything, add email@example.com to your safe-senders list.
Don’t worry—we saved what you wrote.
Sign up to get personalized recommendations and connect with parents and experts in our community.
Only members can view and participate in conversations.
Child’s nickname is private and only you can see it.