Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Theme Parks & Your Child with Special Needs

Theme parks are fun, exciting, big, exhausting, and everything in between. Taking any child to a theme park may bring trepidation to a parent. If you are like me, you wonder how your child with special needs will thrive in a new environment and if the experience will be worth all the money.

In the past few years, we have braved a few theme parks with our children and have loved it. Here's some things I have learned.

1. Know your park! Do your homework!
I have a type A personality so this is one of my favorite activities. Even if planning ahead isn't your favorite pastime, you have to do it for a better experience. First, you can look up First Aid areas or family rest areas that you may need for your child. Secondly, check the rules on what you can bring in the parks. Some allow drinks and snacks. If I can bring Jaycee's cup in the park, it will be much easier to keep her hydrated through the day.

Finally, most parks have disability ride access programs. Some are highly publicized and others are not. For the parks that have disability access programs, these will become very important to understand to get the most out of your day in the parks. We have found that all the parks we have been to have had a disability access program of sorts. (This has included all the Disney parks in Orlando, Sea World in Orlando, Six Flags St. Louis, Holiday World in Indiana, and Silver Dollar City in Branson.) Guest relations at the park can give you information if there is not any available online. Most of the access passes allow us to get a return time to bring Jaycee back to the ride so she will not have to wait in line. Usually you can only sign up for one ride at a time, but we find things to do in between. This is not a jump the line pass. This is a modified way to wait for a ride as long as the person with the disability is riding.

Jaycee meeting characters at Holiday World in her wheelchair

2. Use wheelchairs or strollers.
If your child cannot walk long distances, runs off, or is difficult to lead in a crowd, then please consider using a stroller or wheelchair. If you don't own one, most parks have them for rent at the park entrance. I would not dare go to a theme park without Jaycee's medical stroller. The stroller allows her to save her strength for rides and shows. If you have never used a wheelchair with your child, you might feel awkward at first, but please consider giving it a try. This will save your child's stamina, keep your child safer, and most likely decrease some of your stress.

3. Plan your day around your child's needs.
We know that Jaycee's energy declines as the day progresses, so we always get to the parks at their opening time. This will help her get more fun done before she tires. Your child may be the opposite. Maybe they thrive at night. Now is no time to try to change their schedule preferences.

4. Split up.
You may also have to split up with your group to allow everyone to enjoy what they are interested in. Jaycee and I will sometimes watch a music or character show (she loves both of these) to give her a chance to sit and rest while my husband and son do activities that better interest them. There is no way we could do everything all day together as a family, and that is ok. Most of the day, we are together.

5. Bring helpers.
The first time I took Jaycee to a theme park, I was extremely nervous. I brought both of her grandmas with me. They enjoyed spending time with my two kids, and I had more than enough help. I didn't necessarily need two extra people, but it spread the workload out more conveniently. It is also made bathroom breaks and swimsuit changing more manageable with an extra person. Now, that the kids are older, I don't need extra helpers as long as my husband is with me. Do not be afraid to ask for help!
Jaycee and her brother enjoying a ride

You can do it! You can take your child to a theme park successfully. You may not stay all day or get to do everything you want. You may have to make adjustments, but it can be done. Now, go to it!


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