Disneyland with Sensory Processing Disorder
I think that it is obvious from the mere mention of Disneyland that this is going to be a place with plenty of sensory experiences. How someone manages Disneyland with Sensory Processing Disorder is going to be determined by how they are effected. This post is written in terms of how we helped The Sensory Seeker when we visited Disneyland Paris and an insight into things you may want to consider if planning a visit. The things may also apply to other Disney parks.
How old is the person you are taking to Disneyland with Sensory Processing Disorder?
We had previously taken The Sensory Seeker in the first two years of his life. Obviously we were unaware of his Sensory Processing Disorder at that time and believed things were due to his age. He pretty much cried and cried the whole time. Obviously we have also learnt a lot more about how to deal with his Sensory issues since but I do think you need to consider the person’s age. And height. As with all theme parks there are restrictions on rides with minimum height requirements. Some children are easier than others to explain this to. Find out which rides they can and cannot go on and plan accordingly.
When to go to Disneyland with Someone with Sensory Processing Disorder
I think you really need to ask yourself what is best for the individual with Sensory Processing Disorder. If they are an avoider then it is going to be much harder for them to cope with peak season for example. Or the added touches of celebrations of Halloween and Christmas may be far too overwhelming. What are their main sensory problems – for example Spring is more likely to have a very high smell from the flowers.
How long is the park open (as it is open much later with fireworks/music/lights display on selected dates not all). If they are of school age and not home schooled I think that you need to consider how missing school will affect them by going at a quieter period. Personally we went in the May half term holidays – this is slightly quieter as French children are still at school. We felt that The Sensory Seeker is behind his peers too far to miss school for that period of time. Also think about how long you are going for. Would it be better lots of days and spread it out, or would one day in the parks suit the individual better and get it all out of the way? Think realistically about what you want to cover. It really helped us that we had been previously so knew which rides to head for. Also check what will be open.
When to tell the individual with Sensory Processing Disorder that they are going to Disneyland
A lot of things I would agree that planning and preparation is key. With Disneyland I don’t feel so much. The Sensory Seeker was told the night before, and even then I feel this was too early. He knows what Disneyland is, it is on the television ALL the time. He was hyped and had trouble sleeping. My only real problem with not preparing him is that he thought that we were going to Disney World and so was disappointed to find a pink castle.
How going to Disneyland can affect those with Sensory Processing Disorder
Auditory – there’s going to be a lot of noise stimulation – from the crowds, music from the carnivals, the rides. This can be a problem for both avoiders and seekers (as they can become overstimulated) – you may want to consider the use of ear plugs or headphones. They could take an i-pod and have their favourite music on it, or some calming down sounds. We also took a Kidizoom Smart Watch as he was able to record sounds into it – which is what helps him calm down (and was great whilst he had to wait). Think about how much noise there will be on each ride – will you need to warn them? Will it have any sudden sounds? Before you go try to work out where the more noise and quiet areas of the park are. Offer breaks and seek solace in the quiet. If your child is not scared of hand dryers then I found that these were quieter and offered a welcome break. Listen to them and give them control about what they want to do.
Visual – You cannot escape the visual stimulation at Disneyland. I couldn’t even begin to list it but the rides and special effects, the characters, the flowers, the Castle, the displays – I could go on. Again consider the rides – is it dark or are there a lot of light effects. If they are a seeker think about spacing out the stimulating rides so that they do not over stimulate themselves. Sunglasses and hats are good at reducing the visual stimulation for avoiders. Seek places to sit in the shade or where it is darker – such as under trees. If a Seeker cannot get enough visual stimulation whilst at Disneyland (perhaps whilst waiting) then maybe take a toy spinner with lots of colours for them to focus on. This may also help you move on around the park if they get fixated with the visual stimulation in one part of the park/ride. If you take a pushchair (or hire one) consider getting a dark cover for it to block out the light and allow some chill out time.
Proprioception & Vestibular – This is really a case of thinking about the rides again. Will they throw out their sense of proprioception – and how will they cope with this in such a crowded environment. Find the space for them if they need to spin around, or run, or allow them time out/let them rock, take weighted items with you if needs be, and consider hiring a pushchair (which isn’t like the “baby” versions). Let them carry the backpack – the weight of it will give them more of an awareness about where their body is.
Tactile – This will differ depending on the weather. Will you have a problem with getting them to wear sun lotion or a hat? Will hot or cold weather be better for their coping? Could they wear gloves/ear defenders/a coat? The Sensory Seeker actually got us to buy a new hat with ears that hang down the sides of his face.
Think about how you cope normally with issues such as labels and textures in clothing. Might this change throughout the day with the different stimulation? Could you take alternate clothes? (We took them in case of a toileting accident too). What will they be like in the crowds? You can visit Guest Services in City Hall to get a green card which will help with queuing/parades/displays etc. Take with you proof of the condition (they recommended a blue parking badge). They will also give a guide to disabilities and are very helpful. This will allow the individual with Sensory Processing Disorder not to have to stand in the big queues. The Sensory Seeker is very much into touching people’s faces and licking them so this card helped a great deal. Again a weighted blanket is good, and/or something to fiddle with.
We took plenty of snacks – try to take ones with a variety of textures. Also think about whether the Character meet and greets are okay for your child or a bit too overwhelming. Alternative watch the carnival as they go by but do not get too close. If you are staying at night it can get very dark but there are also lots of lovely lights around the park.
Note the worst part for me, never mind The Sensory Seeker, was getting through the bag check. It is crowded and people push (so desperate to get into the park). If you book a Disney hotel you get magic hours which means you can go earlier so it is less busy. There are quicker queues if you have no bag so I let my family go through and meet me on the other side.
Gustatory – check out what foods there are available before you go. You can take things in with you too. There are lots of water fountains about but we knew that The Sensory Seeker would not drink it so took some squeezy in to flavour it.
Olfactory – there are a LOT of flowers and smells from food. You could take your own scent in a bottle or on a cloth. Other than that I am not sure what you could do about it but it is something to be aware of. If anyone has any suggestions about this sense (or any of the others) I would appreciate your comments in the box below please.
Top Tips for Disneyland Paris and Sensory Processing Disorder
- If you can book the on-site hotel – this will give you the opportunity for breaks, quietness, leaving things (such as weighted blankets) and so you can watch the firework display without it being too crowded/noisy (I say this I have never actually stayed so please check this is accurate).
- Continue any Sensory Diet and Sensory exercises that you utilise at home.
- Split up as a family if need be – allowing the individual time to relax or go on rides that suit their needs without the whole day needing to revolve around them.
- Consider whether rides are proprioceptive (spinny), calming (water), dark or with lots of lights.
- Listen to them – they may have loved spinning around at the beginning of the day but by the end it may all be too much.
- Most importantly be flexible. For example if you were planning on staying for the fireworks and they just cannot cope then it won’t be enjoyable for anyone.
- If you have a Seeker go and visit the big fan in Walt Disney Studios.
Visit Pinkoddy or tips on visiting Disneyland Paris on a small budget. Plus see Top Tips for Disneyland Paris – Guide to EuroDisney. With special thanks to AttractionTix who made the trip affordable.