Information for Special Needs Families Visiting the Park
Hi! My name is Julia aka Jewlz. We took our son, Caleb on our first family vacation. We never thought there was a possibility due to my son being Autistic as well as being born with Down Syndrome. Here is a little sigh of relief for other parents that have special needs children and want to visit the park.
Last year at this time, I was researching until my heart was content on finding ways to make Caleb’s visit just as enjoyable as ours would be. Wondering which rides he would enjoy, how the weather was going to play a factor in his mood, show times for the shows over in the Forest of Fun, if there are any special programs for special needs children that were offered from the park to help make their time enjoyable. After hours and days of searching, I got it all together.
We arrived at the park at 9:30 am on a HOT Saturday in July. Getting our tickets was REALLY easy. Printed off and done pretty quick! Then we headed down to Guest Relations to get Caleb’s ride accessibility pass (R.A.P). What’s that you say? Well, it’s a really cool program that the park has to offer for their special needs guests. We waited in line, and gave them Caleb’s information. They store the information in their system for future reference. So easy!! No filling out a form. No doctor documentation!! So then all we have to do is give them Caleb’s name in the future. No questions asked after that. They put a wrist band on Caleb’s ankle, cause if he had it on his wrist, he’d try to pick it off, and handed us a list of rides and a time sheet. They explained the whole thing very thoroughly. I felt very confident that Caleb would have a great time…
We went through the gates and did what we needed, had Chloe, my daughter, all measured up for the rides she could ride, and sat in England to plan our day out. We looked over the time sheet and the suggested rides that they have printed out on the paper. So, we planned Caleb’s first ride to be the carousel. Hahahahaha!! That was a NO GO! He sat on a horse, and didn’t like it going up and down, and he climbed up me. While trying to escape the ride, he blew out one of his flip flops, and I had to holler to the Operator to stop the ride to let us off. I apologized to the others that were on. I was embarrassed and horrified, and Caleb was breathing sighs of relief.
So, we tried him in the Land of Dragons. It was a no go. He wanted nothing to do with anything the first day we were there. We tried everything they mentioned on the list. He wanted nothing to do with ANYTHING but the food and drink on the first day..
Sunday came, and we got up to do the breakfast thing and out the hotel door we went!! I was confident that my son was going to enjoy himself today! Today was all about him and what he can do! We stopped in England again, and we planned out our day just like we did the day before. Looked around and shopped a little bit. Easing Caleb into the feel of the park. We headed over to the Forest of Fun. I took him out of his stroller, went and put on a swim pull-up for him, and let him go. At first, he was leery due to the huge crowd already over there, and kids just running wild. But he warmed up to it slowly and when he did, he had an amazing time. He first started in Oscar’s Yucky Forest. He climbed and we played with him. When he started smiling, I knew he was having a good time. Then we drifted over to the splash pad at Elmo’s Castle. He LOVED IT. Him and I played and played. I didn’t care what other adults thought, in that moment, I was 5 1/2 and seeing it all as he would. Well, he was getting bored with that and was wanting to do something else. Got him all dressed and dry, and took him over to get pics with Elmo and Big Bird. He LOVED it!!! I was so overwhelmed that tears of joy were running down my face. How could they not?! My Autistic son was having a wonderful time FINALLY on our family vacation!!!
A light bulb lit up, and while he was on that fun high, I said, “Sam!! Let’s try him on the Whirly Worms!!”. Sam and his disbelief, he said okay. I told him I just know Caleb is going to like this ride, and that he will enjoy himself. So at first he was a little scared. Mommy was on one side, and Daddy on the other. He wanted up, but we reassured him that everything was going to be okay. Well the first time she started it up, and he became a little excited. The GOOD excited. He was smiling, and my heart just had relief. He was on a ride and enjoying himself!! I looked over to Sam and said, “I told you so!”. Nonetheless, we rode the Whirly Worms that day 10 times straight. Had to fight him off!! It was the ONLY ride that he wanted anything to do with, so we went back before closing of the Forest of Fun while the rain had stopped, and he rode 5 more times. He really enjoyed himself!! That made our trip complete.
Here are a few pointers that we learned last year from our trip..
-If your child does not like loud sounds, make sure you hit the Das Festhaus before Oktoberfest and Entwined hit the stage. The acoustics in that place are great but not so much for an Autistic kiddo.
-Try your child at what you think they would be the most comfortable with.
-Use the ride list that they give you at Guest Relations. It’s very helpful in planning on what rides you are going to try your child at.
-Most of the food places have chicken nuggets and fries if that’s the only thing your child likes.
-Also, if your child has celiac disease, gluten free menu items are listed at each eatery.
-The Land of Dragons has a cooling station at the bathrooms if your child just needs a “time out” from the crowds. Inside they offer guests free water and a place to sit. They have toys and lizards for the kids to enjoy.
-Most rides are great for Autistic children except for maybe Verbolten, Darkastle, and Europe in the Air. The sound effects and sound would be too much.
-Crowd avoidance is a major issue with Autistic children. Look for short lines at the gift shops and drink stands.
-Don’t eat at peak eating times which are at 12 pm and 5 pm. Try about 2 pm and 7 pm.
-Duck into a quite gift shop or the arcade or see a show (if the venue isn’t too crowded, and try to get there right before it’s starts to minimize the wait).
- To get a “break” from the crowded paths. Use the train/skyride as much as possible.
I am venturing out to the park on June 20th to June 24th. This will be our 2nd experience with Caleb there. I hope he has many more first his second go around.