Thrills, loud noises, sudden movements— These are experiences most of us like at an amusement park, but for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), these can be challenging. SPD is the inability to process the input of any of the five senses normally. Many people have some issues with some senses, but for people with the disorder, these sensitivities are extreme enough to affect their behaviors.
I recently visited Universal Studios Hollywood with my family because of the great franchises they feature, such as The Minions, The Simpsons, and Shrek. My kids are interested in movies, and this is a fun place to get completely involved in the making of films. We hadn’t checked out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, so were excited to visit it as we had never had a chance to visit the one in Florida and love Harry Potter. If you do too, check out my Harry Potter Pinterest Board.
We also have visited Disneyland California many times with our kids. This park is much easier to manage with sensory kids, but it can still be overwhelming.
As the mother of three boys, a dentist who treats some SPD kiddos and a mom with some sensory sensitivities myself, I was very aware of how hard this park could be to navigate for SPD families. Because this park is built on movie making, it is all about the effects. The rides make you feel that you are in the middle of the action- even in the more kids-oriented rides. We want to give our children all the experiences that this world has to offer. To help with that, here are some ideas on how to manage a day through this fun and exciting amusement park with your SPD child.
- Prepare your child: All kids like to have control over their experiences, and forewarning them about the excessive sounds and thrilling adventures will help with this.
- Bring earplugs or headphones: The volume in all the rides is loud. Even in the lines, they do a great job entertaining you, but it’s often loud too. Headphones can give a child a sense of control over the sounds.
- Make sure your child is well-rested and well-fed before your visit. Even the calmest kids can be sent over the edge when they are hungry and tired.
- Dress comfortably and appropriately. Even though California is known for its temperate climate, it can get hot or cold enough to require planning. Many sensory kids prefer soft clothes without tags.
- Go at the best time of day and year for your child. I don’t love crowds, and my kids are okay with being up late. We visited the park during winter break, and it was crowded, but arriving on the later side after a full night’s sleep allowed us more time in the park after the crowds had left. Maybe your family does better in the morning when the crowds will also be less. If you can visit on a weekday outside of school break, the parks will be less crowded.
- Don’t overschedule your visit. Allow your family chill days before and after your visit. Figure out the rides and attractions that you most want to visit and hit those first. Consider whatever you get done an accomplishment. Don’t compare yourself to others or have big expectations of your day.
- Sea-Bands: Because most of the rides at Universal Studios Hollywood, even the Movie Studio Tour, are 4-D attractions, they have quick, jerky movements. Our family loves Sea-Bands, wristbands with acupressure points, to fight off motion sickness, although if your child would be bothered by the tight band around his wrist, you might consider motion sickness medications. ( I am an Amazon affiliate, if you buy Sea-Bands through this link, I will make a commission.)
- Take advantage of the park’s Child Swap feature, which allows adults to take turns staying at the ride entrance then switching with another adult so that others in your family can experience rides that would be too much for your SPD child.
- Buy Front of the Line Ticket upgrade- The day that we went lines were long, and none of the upgrade tickets were available, and we waited one and a half hours to get on the movie studio tour. If these tickets aren’t available be prepared for the wait by bringing a game or phone for your child to help pass the time. At Disneyland or Disney World, you can use their Fast Pass system, but they only work on one ride at a time.
- The most controlled way of seeing the park with your family is to splurge for the VIP Service at Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland. Although it will set you back a pretty penny, this will allow you the most control over the park. With this service, you will have a tour guide that can prepare your child for what to expect and will also allow you to bypass lines so you can get more accomplished in a shorter amount of time. You must book this option ahead of time.
I hope that these tips help you have a wonderful day with your family. Be kind and gentle with each other, realizing that this day may be stressful for you all, but the memories will be worth it.