Taking an autistic child to an amusement park can be a very scary thought, but it could also be a lot of fun! Yes, there is a lot of potential for sensory overload, but there is also a lot of potential for sensory output which can be helpful for many children.
Autistics and Amusement Parks
Let me start by saying I'm autistic, and two of my daughters are as well. I'm writing this post from the perspective of a mother of an autistic child but also as an autistic human myself. 🙂 If you're looking for more resources for autistics, I highly recommend Autistic Mama. She is not an “autism mom”, she's autistic herself and has neurodiverse children.
When we start dreaming about taking a trip to the amusement park, we start with a solid plan. While no outing will be perfect, being prepared can help prevent many common issues.
Ask the park.
Check with the amusement park that you plan on visiting ahead of time, and see if they have any special guidelines or practices in place for those with varied needs. Check out this list of autism-friendly theme parks if you are searching for one to try! 🙂
Make a plan.
Prepare your child, as well as you can, for the noise, excitement, and vast amounts of people who will be there.
If possible, print out a park map beforehand and mark out safe meeting places and places to find help if you get separated. Let your child get to know the layout of the park on paper.
Practice – over and over again if necessary – the process of what your child should do if you get separated. Where should they go? Who should they ask for help? Do they have your name and phone number memorized? If not, do they have it on a piece of paper in their pocket?
Snap a pic.
When you arrive at the amusement park, take a picture of your child/children with your cellphone, so you will have a current and accurate photo of exactly how they look and what they are wearing that day.
For non-verbal children: make sure they have a card with a name or contact info on it, so someone can help them, if need be.
In the head of the moment, when a child is wandering around without you, you might forget what they were wearing – or mix their outfit up with another day. Having a current photo can save tons of time in locating your child at the amusement park.
Show your child who their helpers are.
Point out various staff members and/or safe people who your child can go to for help. If they know these things ahead of time, it can help them in the moment if you do get separated.
Pack the snacks!
Have plenty of snacks, liquids, and comfort items on-hand. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for quiet, potential calming spots. You never know when those will come in handy.
Take their lead.
Have fun, but don't force it. Start off with movements that your child is comfortable with and let them decide when they are ready to try something else.
If they show hesitation when it comes to getting on a new ride, respect that boundary they are setting and cheerfully help them find something else to do.
Take your time.
Move slow and relax. If you get frazzled, they get frazzled, we all get frazzled and then, we have meltdowns. We talk about this a lot with positive parenting, but responding positively in these situations will help everyone.
Tackle sensory issues head on.
For kids with sensory issues, always pack ear plugs, goggles, a towel and a change of clothes. Because some amusement parks don't allow over-the-ear headphones but allow in-ear headphones for phone calls, we settled on these sensory plugs that help cancel out the noise.
While they don't get rid of all of the sound completely, they take it down to about 50%, which is exactly what I need when I'm in public places!
Take breaks. Eat. Find a room with AC. Find a grassy area. Whatever you've gotta do to get everyone comfortable, make it happen. 😉
Focus on the positive.
All trips have their good moments and their not so good moments. Take more of the good moments home with you and leave the not so good moments behind.