Ray Pilgrim (NDD#104) (11 Posts)

Ray grew up with Disney having visited Disneyland several times as a kid, and Walt Disney World once. He had always had fond memories of the trips, but really became a Neurotic Disney Dad when he started to take his kids to the Disney Parks. His oldest child has Autism Spectrum Disorder. So taking his kids to Disney took a little more planning and some lessons learned the hard way. To help others, he and his wife have created Disney for Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (WDWAutism.com) to help others plan their magical trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line. WDWAutism also has planning aides to help families prepare for their trips. Rachel and Ray also produce a weekly Disney Parks planning podcast called Mouse Travel Tips.


Photo Credit: Ray Pilgrim

One thing I have learned from our trips to Walt Disney World is that, at some point, a meltdown is going to happen.  We can prepare and take steps to prevent them, but just be prepared for them to happen.  Sometimes, the reasons are not even apparent to you why it’s happening.  Knowing that it’s going to happen will help you to minimize or with luck stop them before it reaches the point of no return.

I attended a lecture on meltdowns at an autism conference.  The speaker used the analogy of a glass.  Whenever something happens that affects the child, water is added to the glass.  A lot of times, it is just small events that add up.  Water is added to the glass until it overflows, and you are at meltdown mode.  To make sure you don’t overflow the glass there are two things you can do. First, make sure water is not added.  Second, do things to take the water away.

You know your child the best, so make sure while you are at the park he is not adding water to his cup.  For Josh, we know crowds are not always the best for him.  To help him, we are there right when the parks open.  Those first hours we get so much done, and the crowds are light.  Another prevention we use is his special needs stroller.  He doesn’t use it for physical reasons, as he can walk through the park. What the stroller does is give him a much needed sense of familiarity and his own little space in the big park. I have even seen some children use a towel to cover up their space to have their own little fortress of solitude.  We cannot forget to mention the Guest Assistance Card provided by Disney to help those that need that extra amount of help in the park.

There are a couple of little things that we can do to take the water away from the glass.  The big one is to take a break from the park.  If you are on property, then you can go back to the resort at the busiest times (and sometimes the hottest times).  Take a nap, relax in the room, or Josh’s favorite: take a dip in the resort pool.  If it is hard to take a resort break, you can still take breaks at the parks.  There are quiet places where you can sit down and relax a bit.  One of our favorite places is the second floor of the Columbia Harbor House Counter service.  We grab a bite, relax, and watch people from the windows.  It is almost always quiet there and air conditioned too.

These are some great steps to prevent that meltdown, but even with all that work you cannot plan for that unplanned event that well set them off. Once while at Magic Kingdom we were going to Pirates of the Caribbean, but the line was snaking before it even got into the building.  I knew that wasn’t a good situation. I turned around to speak with a cast member for the alternative entrance, but Josh thought we weren’t going to ride.  At that point the glass not only overflowed, but there was water everywhere.  His poor little heart was broken, but we slowly made over to the alternative entrance, comforted him, and explained that we were going on Pirates but that we had to wait there.  After waiting, a cast member came by and led us to the ride.  Afterward, the meltdown was just a thought for him.

When a meltdown does happen, just do what you usually do at home to get them through it.  You may get strange looks, but they don’t know the whole story (also, you probably will never see them again anyway).  Also take steps so your cup doesn’t fill up, too.  It doesn’t help anyone if you have a meltdown along with your child.  What are some steps you take to prevent meltdowns? Disney Parks can be some of the most magical times you have with your family both with and without the meltdowns.  So, have fun and watch that glass.

Contributed by: Ray Pilgrim (NDD#104) Ray is the DDL Special Needs Blogger. He is also the creator of WDW Autism.

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