For families with children with autism spectrum disorders, or ASD, places like amusement parks can be a difficult zone. And, recently, some theme parks near southeast Michigan changed their policies on wait times for those with ASD and other disabilities.
Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which runs nearby Cedar Point in Ohio, and Michigan's Adventure, located further north in Muskegon, Mich., used to have policies in place that allowed attendees with special needs to arrive at a ride and quickly board at a designated area to avoid the stress of waiting in line, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer article.
The policy – which officials reportedly said was always in place, but is now being consistently enforced – requires riders with special needs to obtain a "ride boarding pass" with a designated boarding time that allows them to come back without standing in line. The boarding time will correspond with the estimated wait time of the line.
"Guests can then choose to rest comfortably away from the queue area or enjoy another ride that does not have a line, visit a shop, see a show or play a game until their boarding time," Cedar Point notes in its website's boarding pass program section.
For rides with no lines, "Guests may ride at any time via the alternate access entrance (usually the exit)," it notes.
However, many parents of kids with autism are concerned that the policy change will be more difficult for kids with ASD, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
"Children with autism … thrive on routine and order and have difficulty waiting, in or out of line," its article explains. In other words, some moms and dads worry that taking their child to a ride to get a pass – only to have to leave and return later – could trigger a meltdown or other upset reaction.
Getting your child ready
Still, if you want to take a trip to the amusement park with your special needs child, there are some things to keep in mind so the experience can be fun.
"Advance planning is a requirement for any successful amusement park visit with a person with ASD," Cedar Point's website notes, adding that a trip to the theme park will "include a plethora of sensory stimulation including crowds, dark and loud theaters, coasters traveling overhead, lights and noises (and) waiting in line, to mention a few."
These tips from the Autism Society's "Enjoying the Amusement Park" pamphlet can help you and your special needs child enjoy the trip to the park:
- With all the sights and sounds at the park, be sure to bring gear to block out the craziness, like earplugs to help your child calm down if she becomes overwhelmed. Noise-canceling headphones may also be an option.
- Prepare ahead of time by printing a map and pictures of the park, the Autism Society suggests. Since this is a drastic change in routine, try using a calendar to count down the days to your trip, too.
- It might be helpful to try role playing situations you may encounter at the park that may be upsetting to the child, like waiting in line or bad weather, the group notes.
- Many people with autism crave routine. Pack a picture book or toys to help keep kids grounded if they get overwhelmed. A handheld game, like one of the apps from Friendship Circle, may also help.
- It will be easy to lose track in a crowded place. Prep your family members or friends to assist with problems that may arise.
You also may want to consider a theme park specifically designed to cater to people with disabilities – like Morgan's Wonderland in Texas – as a safe and fun option for your child.