Expectations, Fatigue and Food

Remember this photo (below) in the introductory article ? That was an amazing day for Andy! After years of watching the Festival of the Lion King, a cast member, sensing Andy’s special needs, invited him to join the younger children during the audience participation portion. And HE DID IT! You just never know what surprises might occur while visiting the Disney Parks.

Andy’s debut in Festival of the Lion King. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

So, what makes a vacation to a Disney Park a great choice for your autistic child? What makes a vacation to a Disney Park a horrible choice for your autistic child? The second question is easily answered. Noise, overstimulation, sensory overload, unpredictable scheduling, transition after transition after transition…and the list goes on.

Given the challenges, why would anyone subject themselves to this place? Because its FUN!  The next several posts will provide lists of things that you can do to increase the chance that your vacation will be fun for everyone. Today’s post addresses Expectations, Fatigue and Food.

They do grow up! Some of my gang in front of Splash Mount, Magic Kingdom. Photo taken by our our Autistic child, Andy.


For starters, let’s look at your typical day at home. Most days are not perfect. If you are like me, at least one moment of every day kind of stinks. Now, consider what your vacation might be like. After planning, anticipating, saving, and spending for the dream vacation, you might expect that every moment, of everyday, while on vacation is going to be perfect. However, at some point in your travels something will go wrong. Cars get flat tires on vacation. Planes are delayed. It rains on vacationers, as well as, the locals. And, unfortunately, for the parents of autistic children, your kiddo having a meltdown is almost inevitable. So, step one to having fun on your Disney vacation is to reduce your expectations. The Happiest Place on Earth, will not be FUN 24-7.  Planning will increase your chances, but it cannot eliminate the unexpected. 


Having said that, let’s consider a few tricks. First, somewhere in the experience of raising our two spectrum kids, I realized that many of the meltdowns were linked to two simple factors, hunger or fatigue. Let’s start by focusing on those fairly simple challenges. Upon arriving in Orlando or Anaheim, before taking a step into the park, ask yourself, would a dip in the pool and a nap be the best choice for helping “Mary” rest and be ready for what is ahead? You will have to ask the same question the next morning, and afternoon, and evening. While at the park, likely the best place for a younger child to nap is in a stroller. Next week we will address stroller issues and the Park’s latest stroller rules. In this article, let’s consider some great napping attractions at the parks. Assuming that your child can handle a theater type setting (one of ours would not) here are some locations in the park that your child might slip off to sleep rather than make a trip back to the hotel.

Lady and the Tramp comes alive at Animation Academy in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Tip #1: Many of these attractions are not high demand. If you manage to get the little guy to fall asleep, and the show ends, send someone in your party to ask if you can stick around for another show. Don’t be afraid to mention that you are dealing with an overstimulated autistic child who needs a break.

Tip #2: Sometimes a short nap doesn’t work. Sometimes you need to get back to your hotel for a longer rest. When making plans for hotel stays, consider just how complicated the return to the room will be, given where the hotel is located. Sometimes, a room on Walt Disney World property still takes a while to access from one of the parks. Conversely, some off-property hotel rooms at Disneyland may be a short walk from the park’s gates.

This room at the Fairfield Inn is just across the street from Disneyland. Sometimes, it’s worth booking a room that can get you both close and away from the action quickly.
Photo by J. Jeff Kober.


There is food and the scent of food EVERYWHERE, but for some of our kids, none of it tastes good. You can bring food into the park. Here are park rules on food. Also, here is a list of items not allowed in the park. Be aware that food rules vary and are stricter at Universal Studios or Sea World. 

Our Andy, several years ago getting some food and needing a nap!

Park food options are plentiful. However, the kid’s meals vary from location to location. For example, at the Magic Kingdom, the only counter service which has a hamburger with french fries is Cosmic Rays in Tomorrowland. For our Andy, who only likes hamburger and French fries, this is a big problem, because he hates Sonny Eclipse, the performing robot in the center of the dining area. Therefore, the simple act of getting a hamburger at the Magic Kingdom is more difficult than say at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Tip! The best trick for nailing down food fast and finding what you want on a menu is to use the Disneyland Resort or Disney World App.  You can mobile order and save yourself time in line, as well as, search for the restaurant that has your child’s favorite food. 

Go figure that the one place with the food our son likes has an alien he can’t stand. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.


So, assuming that you are expecting some bumps, planning for naps, and keeping your tiger’s tummy full, half of the battle may be won. I remember so many moments at Walt Disney World, feeling completely content with my sleeping child resting in his stroller, munching on some cinnamon-glazed almonds, and watching the people walk about, while the rest of my kiddos ran between Space and Splash Mountains with their dad. Stopping to smell the roses applies here, as well as, anywhere. Be sure to make your Disney day a get-away!

One more thing, to all those parents of autistic children out there, who have done the Disney Parks before, please share your ideas in the comments below. I would like to update the article with your tips. Enjoying a Disney vacation with our special kids requires a little more effort. I would love to hear how it has worked for your family in the past. Please share!

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