Hello all, my name is Beth and I have been asked to share my expertise on special needs with everyone here. I’m often asked why the term “disabled” is not used. Special needs encompasses so much more than disabilities. I will cover topics on anger, stress, parenting and more as this affects many and is not limited to disabilities.

I am a mental health professional so I will focus on the mental health aspects of travel to a Disney park.

I am starting with a series on “Letting Your Child Go on Their Own in the Parks”. This is a seven part series.

All are invited to ask questions and oh yes…there are no current therapies for what ails you…the Disney Neurosis.

Preparations for Letting Children Go on Their Own in the Parks

For those traveling with children at some point in time the question will arise — When should I let my child go into the park alone? This decision calls for a child’s readiness and not chronological age. In weeks to come I will present a series of articles on recommendations for letting their child venture alone at a Disney Park. The article will discuss preparations for letting a child go on their own, developmental basics guiding that decision, rules and consequences for such adventures and the radius of the child’s outing. Most segments are written for the average child without developmental disabilities, behavior problems or significant family stress. Special needs and family issues will be addressed separately and your questions are welcome.

Preparations for letting a child go on their own can start with your very first visit. Parents should start training their child/children early. A common mistake many parents make is to assume that the transition from childhood to adulthood is like an on/off switch. This transition does not occur overnight; it’s a slow process where the child is shaped and groomed to take on the adult role by developing independence and confidence by gradually exposing the child to situations where they are allowed to assume more responsibilities. Walt Disney World is a great place to start because there are so many skills that can be developed in a relatively safe environment.

So where do we start? Believe it or not you start training your child with language development. This training can help develop a child’s intellect as well. Every time we ask a child a question like “where is the monorail?” or “where is the castle?” we are developing the child’s ability to think independently and some research suggests we can even help develop abstract thought which is associated with developing a higher IQ.

IQ is very flexible below the age of five; enrichment often helps develop or increase the child’s IQ. So age appropriate questions like “Where are we?” “What is that?” “What do you want to ride next?”, “Who is that character?” could enhance your child’s intellectual development and prepare them for that first independent outing. As they mature, from five to seven, start asking your child for direction, e.g., “How do we get to the bus? What is the name of our resort?” “Do you see a Cast Member?” Help your child develop vocabulary, confidence and abstract thought, all while preparing your child to think independently.

What is the ideal age? There is no magical age for letting a child venture off alone. Years ago the Disney tickets stated that children under seven should be accompanied by an adult. I strongly suggest respect for the Disney’s current guidelines. Again it is more an issue of readiness than age.

In the weeks to come I will present a series of age appropriate questions many parents should ask before allowing their children wonder off without an adult. These include: limits, consequences, fears, communication, friends, disabilities, predators and more. Hope you will join me.

Next week: Part II—Communication

Contributed by Beth (NDM #226). Beth is one of the DDL’s experts on special needs at WDW. She can be found blogging at Mouse-aid.com.

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