Amusement Parks and Autism

Several friends with autism and their families have gone to amusement parks over the summer. The experiences have been different for all involved, so we are taking a few minutes to look at some challenges that may arise when visiting a large amusement park.

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1. Timing. Most large amusement parks such as Six Flags, Sea World, Disney World, and others get more crowded in the afternoons and early evening. If your friend with autism can tolerate large crowds and waiting in line, then you can go anytime. If not, you need to find the least crowded time. Also keep in mind that some of our friends with autism are “morning people,” and some are not. In order to give all the best experience, you need to plan the timing carefully.

2. Logistics. Some individuals with autism have special diets or medical needs, or need assistance with toileting. If so, plan in advance for taking care of those individual needs without too much fanfare. For example, if you are a mom and your 25-year-old son with autism needs a bit of assistance with bathroom issues, you need to locate the family restrooms so you can help him without making a scene.

3. Personal preferences. Remember that not everyone loves to ride the roller coaster and not everyone wants to get splashed by dolphins. It is hard to find the balance between encouraging a person to try something new and forcing them into a situation that makes them feel very uncomfortable. And some of our friends with autism are not able to articulate that well. So we need to watch closely – supporting and encouraging people as they try something new while at the same time, keeping a eye out for signs of serious discomfort and respecting their preferences. I’ve heard frustrated parents say things like, “We paid a lot of money for the tickets, so we aren’t going to just sit under this tree watching the people walk by.” But we need to know in advance that our friend may literally not be interested in the excitement, or that they really do prefer watching shows to taking wild rides.

TIP FOR THE DAY: I encourage introducing our friends with autism to new experiences and exciting adventures while at the same time respecting their preferences, no matter how offbeat they seem.

And it is always wise to take time to explore new approaches for addressing challenging issues that can arise in the lives of our friends with autism. Click on the Toolkit tab on our website for great resources;

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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