Visiting Disney World can be exciting and overwhelming for anyone. A bit of planning and research can make the experience much less stressful and much more fun. Today I am taking a bit of a departure from my regular style of posts to share something that may make travel to Disney with kids/adults with special needs less stressful: visual supports.
I don’t typically talk about my day job here on the blog but today I will because it is actually relevant. I am a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist. This means I help children learn language and communicate. I work with children with various developmental disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Using some Visual Supports helps our children that may have trouble with following routines, dealing with new situations or when they have anxiety about what may happen next. I am going to share two types of visual supports that can be helpful in preparing for your trip and for use when at Disney.
A visual schedule is just that, a picture schedule. Here you can give your kiddo a picture representation of your day. That way they know what to expect or they can understand how many activities will occur before their favorite ride. I would suggest starting with 3-4 items and then adding the next several items.( here is a template you can use) Things can change at Disney, rides can break, rain can pop up or lines may be too long. Flexibility is easier said than done but practicing flexibility at home may help before your big trip. I like to use the surprise icon and practice something unexpected.
The surprise picture can represent the unknown ( new ride, last-minute fast pass, waiting out the rain) while still being a visible item on the schedule. Since it is a tangible picture the children can anticipate that something unexpected is coming. This is a huge issue for our kids that love routine and only the routine.
Download my list of pictures from the Magic Kingdom and use them to map out a day that fits your needs. Again, practice at home using a schedule for daily activities, completing chores or running errands. I have included some basic pictures and a set of pictures that includes almost every ride (to date) at the Magic Kingdom.
The second way to use these pictures is one activity at a time. A simple First we do _____ Then we do______. First, we wait in line, then we ride pirates. This simple tool will remind them what happens after the long wait in line, or what has to happen before lunch.
This visual reminder will keep the task at hand visible and tangible. A simple verbal reminder coupled with the visual reminder, “First line, then pirates”, is reassuring and helps our kids understand what is happening next.
To hold these pictures you can use an official PECs book with includes velcro to adhere to the pictures. However, if you want a cheaper option you can order a mini binder like this one. Just laminate a single sheet and attach the extra pictures for when you need them. Make sure that all the removable pieces have one side of the velcro and the base has the other side of the velcro. The PECS book has handy rings on the spine of the binder. This allows you to attach a lanyard like cord for more portability.
I hope these simple tools may be helpful to some of you in navigating the overwhelming joy of Disney. Please let me know if you found these ideas helpful in the comments. I would love any tips or tricks you find helpful as well!
Have you used visual supports before? Please let me know if you use these ideas. Take a picture and tag me on Instagram @AdventuresbyDrennon.