As Moms & Dads we all know the signs of when our children with Autism are stemming or if your family just needs to regroup for a moment. It could be toe walking, a hand to the mouth and echolalia, raised shoulders, tense necks, heightened vocal pitch, hand flapping, rocking, the list goes on. But, I think it’s safe to say most of our children have a physical tell that let’s us know the processing of the senses is becoming overwhelmed or emotions are starting to rule the day. So what do you do in a theme park to help them calm down after stemming or having a full meltdown? Where can you go to do establish a plan, perform mild OT, pressure, rocking, iPads or whatever your recovery methods may be?
We have made a list of quiet out of the way spots at Disneyland for both parks that if you should find yourself in these situations will remove you from the crowd a bit, provide a quiet and hopefully shady spot and allow your child to calm. Disney is a “Sensorial Buffet” so it is not uncommon for even the most highly functioning child with Autism to stem a few times throughout the day. Even NT parents have let me know this list has helped them to regroup in the parks. These respites help them (and you) to catch your breath as you tour and dim the senses a bit while providing comforting surroundings.
Early in the Day
Main Street U.S.A.
Near First Aid – This is down Main Street and as you face the Castle hang a right before the Plaza restuarant. I had the opportunity to observe this area in the morning for over 90 minutes while we ate and it was free from a great deal of traffic, transportation, streetmosphere etc. Later in the day it does pick up.
Near Mad Hatter Shops – This early there may be a character or two near here. And later in the day the Main Street Band comes out through the gates to the left as you face the shops. But early in the day it’s quieter here as most Guests are moving through and out.
Shops on Main Street (Gibson Girl especially) – We had to use Gibson Girl at 9 am on our day of arrival. It was a good stop as it had seating, wasn’t too overwhelming and was close to Carnation Cafe which is where we were eating breakfast. It was air conditioned as well and at 9 am there wasn’t too much call for ice cream. As well most of your shops will be fairly quiet at this time of day so while the other members of your party browse and scope out purchases you can find a quiet corner if need be without too much trouble.
Later In The Day
First Aid Station – Back of Main Street
As the day goes on Main Street will become busier and busier in traffic and activity. It’s safe to say that the hustle and bustle of Entertainment, Horse Drawn Carts, Music, Food, etc. can become a bit overwhelming. However the First Aid Station is a bit quieter (and air conditioned). I have had to use the First Aid Station before and when coming in, I simply state I need a quiet spot with my son to help him calm down. There are chairs in the lobby and we don’t dally, but we move through his calm down methods so he can tackle Main Street with more clarity.
End of Main Street
As you exit on the left hand side there is a long walkway that leads to restrooms. It’s shaded and quieter, removed from traffic as a whole. If the sounds, sights, and smells become too much this is a good little retreat for a short stop over.
On top of the Train Station Platform – There is a brick patio with benches overlooking the whole of Main Street. Now, this is raised up so if your child has a tendency to run, not a good option, but if they just want to sit and calm for a few, it gets them above the din of Main Street and as well the Train is a lovely ride that will take you wherever you need to go in the park without having to walk down and through again. Not to mention, late in the day it’s shaded and there are some nice breezes that come through there. If you time it right you will also have first rate seats for the 6:00 pm Flag Retreat as a bonus.
As of right now I cannot recommend the shops on Main Street as quiet places later in the day, because well they are stores and stores are designed to entice, have color, etc. those colors only become more pronounced as the daylight gets dimmer and the crowds increase. Plus at the later time of day they are packed with Guests getting those last souvenirs before heading out or getting settled for the fireworks.
This is a very tough spot to find out of the way locales, unlike it’s WDW counterpart. The reason is the way it was designed and constructed. It is meant to have the feel of being a crowded marketplace in some far off corner of the globe, so you get pressed in together to give that feeling. However there are a couple of places we used to calm our son here, on the side and in the shade.
Near Jungle Cruise, under the awning – There is a shop that sells cold (ice cold!) water and fresh fruit. It also has a canopy that hangs out and a bench that runs along it’s backside. The other side of the bench and fence lead to the line for Jungle Cruise and it’s inbetween the GAC accessible entrance and the standard entrance for the attraction, The Indiana Jones FP distribution is also nearby. We had a stop over here and it worked pretty well to get a calmed kiddo before jumping on Jungle Cruise. As most folks aren’t walking back this way, they are either in line or out in the street moving along it is shaded and out of the way, plus you have access to freezing cold water so bonus!
Near Tarzan’s Treehouse – The bridge that leads to New Orleans Square should be right in front of you as well as the back side of the line for Pirates. Near Tarzan and in between here is a shady spot, no seating but a good out of the way place to just breath for a few minutes, maybe do some standing joint compression, or allow your child the space to get some free movement going without worry. It’s not HUGE, but it’s something in an otherwise crowded locale 🙂
New Orleans Square
Court of Angels – This is the creme de la creme of quiet spots for calming your kiddo. Limited exits, it exists simply as a beautiful spot to add that oomph to an otherwise gorgeous palette of New Orleans Square (well done Imagineers!). It is out of the way, has stairs to sit upon, shaded and did I mention beautiful?
Near the Waterfront – Again if your child likes to run off when stemming, might not be the best place to calm, but I noticed a few times that this spot was free of a great deal of traffic, the breezes coming off the water felt wonderful, it has some shade but it remained a place our son went to look out at the boats going by. His signal that he was back to calm? He would wave at other people out on the water, turn and say okay. 🙂 Please Note: Later in the day this area will become crowded due to it being the location for Fantasmic! This is more for morning or afternoon, by 6 or 7 there will be more people in the area.
Plus along the water you never know who might be there to greet you:
Near the Railroad Depot – There is some lovely shade in this area, the opportunity for ice cream or cold water once more, benches and breezes. As well please note you are on the backside of a restaurant that features live music and the train whistle does blow occasionally. However, it’s out of the way of most Guests and you are able to sit for a spell. If your child has noise sensitivity I recommend ear coverage in this area as if they are stemming the ambient noise could be a bit much, but otherwise it’s a good iPad and Social Story location 🙂
Wow your family with this one. The telegraph machine is clicking away in the distance at the depot. Want to know what it is transmitting? It is none other than Walt Disney’s opening day speech from July 1955 over and over. 😉
Waterfront – Again I recommend this as a literal cool spot. This area is consistently prettyshaded, cooler due to it’s proximity to water and I noticed if you are on the extreme outside of the walkway, most people aren’t in that area and stick to the center. I’ve sat on plenty of pavement on the outside of the Disney walkways since I was little and most of the time it’s an okay spot to sit. Is it ideal? No. But it will do in a pinch!
Big Thunder Ranch Area – While we visited unfortunately the area was closed for refurbishment. But as a bonus it was VERY quiet. So it was a nice quiet area to transition into another highly populated area (Fantasyland) with a quiet walk to allow our son to process. There is a restaurant back in this area and a character meet N greet spot to the right as you head into Fantasyland so bewarned on the popular spots. In the evening though? Great location as most folks are using it just for a pass through.
Okay, this is another location like Adventureland. Depending on when you go in the year, and what time of day, this could be the most popular area of the park. You may have some tight quarters, and some VERY tight spots (Tea Cups and Alice come to mind). I take our son (actually both of them) aside and do some preteaching before we go in to Fantasyland. I simply set the expectations, but I also state they must not run off, they must stay with their Dad and I and hold someone’s hand at all times. Not to scare you but it can be very crowded in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in these locations and better safe than sorry. Are there some quiet spots? You bet, but there are a lot of Guests with younger children as well.
Back of Mickey and the Magical Map – As I tweeted during the show, it’s fun but LOUD! My advice remains the same if you have a child who can easily stem, check it out from the very back of the theater. Not only are you close to the restrooms if your child is like mine and ignores that impulse in favor of watching, you are close to the snack and ice cream carts, the noise isn’t quite so loud and we found the handicap accessible viewing perfect and not too crowded for that time of day.
As you enter Fantasyland, eatery and tables on your right – This area is a wide expanse that later in the day and evening is not very crowded. As well early in the am, not crowded either. Mid-day it’s a sea of people. But, it has bottled water nearby, seating a shade. The trifecta. As well there are restrooms very close by. We tend to travel with iPhones, Nintendo DS, or an iPad. So if our son is stemming he usually asks for one of these to view while he calms. I do push water every time we sit down because it’s a great time to rehydrate and your decision making skills are improved when your hydrated! Never pass up the opportunity to drink water! 🙂
Near It’s A Small World – Believe it or not this area was fairly quiet when we went. There is an area situated back by the train depot, Mickey’s Magical Map (which isn’t showing all the time, but be aware it can be loud), and It’s A Small World that was pretty quiet and shaded. As well there are restrooms back at the theater.
Staging Area Under the Monorail, near It’s A Small World – During the parade this is a highly congested area. But, otherwise it has several benches and the monorail up above. It’s not shaded but it does get you out of the stream of traffic and on to a bench.
Near the Matterhorn, benches on the left as you head to Tomorrowland – This area is highly shaded. has seating, food and water. As well if you have other members of your party going on Matterhorn its a great location to simply wait and veg for a few. Take care of you too 🙂
Near Mickey’s Star Traders, Benches near Water Area – There is a seating in the round near Mickey’s Star Traders and Space Mountain. The benches form a circle with a water feature with a giant round boulder in the middle seemingly supported by the water itself. I love this spot because of it’s tactile applications. When your child is sensory seeking it’s a great place for them to try and roll the boulder in the water or sit in the shade and watch other children attempt the same. There is a water and fresh fruit cart very close by and it sits between two areas that if you had members of your party going on Star Tours or Space Mountain they could find you easily.
Landscaping Outcropping Near Water Cart and Counter Service – We sat on this ledge a few times during our weekend while we rehydrated. It’s close enough to the ground it’s safe but high up enough you won’t have difficulty just sitting down. Water and shade abound and it’s off the path.
Red Rocket’s Pizza Port – They have a patio area in this section which is really great to sit in the evening. My husband sat here with our sons while the remaining members (including me) went on Space Mountain with our Fast Passes. Again, water, shade, seating, restrooms. All close by and a good spot to relax.
Please Note: At night there is a concert in Tomorrowland that can be very loud on top of every thing else. If your child stems or has meltdowns from noise ear wear or avoiding the area after dark is probably a very good idea!
Disney’s California Adventure
Hollywood Pictures Backlot
Muppet Vision 3-D/ Monsters Inc. Area – Early in the day to early evening only! This area is fairly quiet, shaded and yes has access to water and restrooms nearby. At night the Mad T Party starts up and this area can be VERY loud. Again If your child stems or has meltdowns from noise ear wear or avoiding the area after dark is probably a very good idea!
a bug’s land
Benches inside a bug’s land – In the shade, the Companion restrooms in bug’s land are just a bit away, water and access to rides if your child opts to not go on and you need to wait for other members of your party. bug’s land is also a pass through from the Hollywood area to the Golden State Area of the park if you need a quicker route than going all the way around.
Car’s Land –
This recreation of Radiator Springs overwhelmed our son to begin with. It could have been the heat, the asphalt, the noise, but after he processed he said it was almost too real. Which I have to agree with, it is a very real representation of Radiator Springs. If I had known just how accurate I would have done Social Stories or some pre-teaching to show reality/make believe a bit. Just a precaution but if your kiddo has trouble with being overwhelmed by items being “too real” prep them.
Near Radiator Racers and by Flo’s V8 Cafe – There is a road back this way that allows you to watch the Racers behind a fence. This walkway also has seating on your left as you face the Racers. There are restrooms nearby and shade. If you were to continue walking on this path you would end up at the Pier, so again a shortcut that not a lot of people take if you need to get away from the population for a bit.
Near Luigi’s Flying Tires – Again the same road but going to opposite direction. I noticed that you can watch the ride from this location, but also it seemed less crowded than the main drag in Radiator Springs.
Back by the Stanley Statue – Oh Stanley. The area near the fire house/station is a good spot, in the shade most of the day and you can wait here as well if you have someone on Radiator Racers. Not a lot of people come to visit Stanley from what we saw, and in a pinch it’s a good spot to be out of the way and calm down.
When you think of quiet, calm places, the last thing you probably think of is an area full of people, screaming coasters, lights, music, smells, sounds, you know your basic Carnival atmosphere. Yeah, I know it’s not optimal. But, if you should find yourself in Paradise Pier and your child is starting to stem here are some places we found helpful.
Benches on the Water – Again if your child wants to run, maybe get away from the water. But, if they want to sit, rock, play on their iPad or other electronics I found the benches by the water to be ideal. There are food courts a plenty nearby, water, restrooms near the California Screamin’ entrance and yes, I even caught a few folks napping here so it can be quieter than on the actual boardwalk. My son and I sat here for some time to calm, eat a hot dog and look out over the water with the boardwalk in the background and I found it refreshing. He did too as soon after he asked if it was time to go on Toy Story yet.
On the other side of the water there are more benches facing Paradise Pier with it safely in the distance. So if your child shows trepidation going into the boardwalk this may be a good transition area to sit and watch the happenings from afar and allow them to make that call.
Golden State Area
Near Grizzly River Rapids – I discovered this as a happy accident. See, this past time to Disneyland was my first time to Disneyland and well while I knew Walt Disney World like the back of my hand, I got turned around plenty in Disneyland (ergo why I now know all the shortcuts!) But, on our first venture into Disney’s California Adventure I took a left instead of a right and ended up on this path around Grizzly River Rapids. It’s a quiet, cool, shady spot that wraps around the attraction. There are photo spots a plenty and yes, you can go near the water for some spray and to watch other guests come down the falls. But also if your child prefers to walk out their stemming it’s a good spot to do just that!
Near Soarin’ – There is a WIDE path here at the entrance to Soarin’ that yep we stemmed and ran around in for a good 5 minutes until our son processed through the fact that Soarin’ was an entirely different experience than Mickey’s Philharmagic. Once we got him on, all was well and he asked to do it again, which we did. But, it is a nice open area after populated paths that can give your kiddo room to roam. As well please note that this area in higher crowds will be used as more line capacity, so can disappear in peak seasons.
So that’s about it! If I think of anymore spots I will be sure to post them, but feel free to let me know any areas at Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure that have helped your family tour in the Comments or message us. As well if your child is stemming and you’re in an unfamiliar area don’t hesitate to ask a Cast Member to point a quiet spot out. I did many times for nursing moms, family’s whose children needed quiet or otherwise needed a break!
We’re always on the lookout for information that helps other family’s and guests with special needs tour more effectively!