Over the last few weeks we have spent quite a bit of time enjoying the Central Florida theme parks. We have visited Disney, enjoyed Not So Scary Halloween, Bok Tower Gardens, and spent some time at a few other fun parks. While this can be a lot of fun it can also be really difficult for my oldest. She is very sensitive to certain sensory environments. If there are fireworks, loud bangs, or sudden loud noises she is very likely to panic. This can make a trip to theme parks difficult but it is not impossible. I want to share some of what I have learned about preparing a sensory sensitive child for theme parks.
Preparing a Sensory Sensitive Child for Theme Parks
I think that the biggest thing that will make the difference for you is preparation. This means that you may take some of the surprise out of it but it means that you may help to enjoy the experience more.
We are big fans of heading to YouTube before going to the park to see the ride or show before we go to the park. This will help for us to know exactly where any loud noises, fireworks, scary characters, or other sensory triggers may be found. It is important that you find good YouTube channels that are appropriate and give good quality. We are HUGE fans of Tim Tracker for his honest reviews as well as his ride perspectives.
As far as quality, we also really appreciate The Dis for show videos. We watched their Not So Scary videos to prepare for the event before going so that R would not be as afraid. These videos were great because they gave R the exact run time of the fireworks she was afraid of as well as the sequence of them so she knew where the bigger ones and where the smaller ones would be.
Most of the theme parks and attractions have their park maps on their websites. It can be beneficial to find out exactly where the getaway locations would be if there is a difficult sensory situation. If the fireworks for instance, are too much to handle, where can your child go to get away from the noise? If the heat is getting too much and the child is feeling sticky, where can the child go to get cool or get dry? Take the time to look at these maps in advance and find the sensory outlets you may need on the day you are in the park.
Know which rides have an easy way out!
This is a huge one! I would speak with a guest service agent or representative before getting in a line. There are some ride lines that are not easy to exit if your child gets scared and wants to leave the ride. It can be good to discuss this with the ride operator before getting in line. In case you wondered, Pirates of the Caribbean will have you walk a screaming child all the way through the queue. It’s not their fault. It’s just the nature of the line. They will do all they can to help you but that is the way the line is designed. To avoid situations like this, ask in advance.
Noise Canceling Headphones
If you have a child who can not handle loud noises I can not recommend a good pair of noise canceling headphones enough! These are excellent when you get to a fireworks show, loud ride, or fireworks show. These were a huge help for us during the Hocus Pocus show.
Research Food Requirements
If you have a child that has an oral sensory need that is met with something like gums or candies instead of a chewie, you will want to research food requirements. Some parks are more flexible than others about requirements. It may be worth having your doctor write a note listing special requirements.
Don’t leave sensory items at home.
Does your child have a favorite lovey? Is there a sensory item they always have with them? Your trip to the theme park is not the time to take this away. They will be surrounded by a very large crowd of people and a great deal of sensory input. If this makes them comfortable, taking it away could work against you in a big way. It doesn’t matter what other people think. What matters is what your child needs most to enjoy their trip.
Be willing to accept that things just won’t work.
You may go in with a plan to try something new at the theme parks. However, sometimes the sensory input can just be too much. Make sure to have an exit plan and be willing to let it go. Remember that you are teaching your child more about their difficulty. Your reaction in these moments can shape how they see their difficulty.
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