What better place to practice social skills than Disneyland? Kids are motivated to try new things there and the cast members are paid to be nice (most are anyways!).
Here are some ideas to try during your next trip, and maybe this will help convince your significant other that the trip to Disneyland is necessary sensory therapy. Whatever works, right?!?
Interact with Cast Members
In our every day worlds, some of our kiddos have a hard time expressing their needs and wants to teachers, coaches, waiters, whomever. Disneyland provides a great opportunity for them to have their needs met and to practice articulating those needs. Here are some ideas on how your child can interact with a cast member.
- Have them ask for a map. Either a park map or souvenir one on the Jungle Cruise.
- Let them order their own food. Or if more advanced, order for the whole family.
- Need to know what time a show or parade starts? Encourage them to ask the closest cast member.
- Have them ask where the best place to watch fireworks is, or what time to line up for the parade.
If your child starts asking you questions, don’t be the Disneyland tour guide. Say, “Good question, will you please ask that cast member?” and direct them to the cast member closest to you.
**Mom Note: Find the best times of the day for your child to encourage interaction. Don’t wait till they’re hungry or having a meltdown. And don’t keep pushing if they’re on sensory overload. Take a break and try again later.
Engage with Characters
Have your child collect the character’s autographs for interaction. Either purchase an autograph book at the park, or bring your own character book from Walmart or here. They can flip through the book while waiting in line. Make sure to notify the cast member attending the character of a DAS pass if needed so you can come back or be moved towards the front of the line.
Introductions! Take advantage of this wonderful time for your child to introduce themselves, which can cause anxiety in some kids. Script the proper salutations and repeat with each character you encounter. “Hello, I’m Sam. Nice to meet you.” Characters are attentive, make eye contact, and respond appropriately. Can’t ask for anything better than that! Slip in a thank you and good-bye if you can to.
Some people bring gifts for the characters (nothing fancy, think dollar store) to receive more interaction with the characters. I’ve seen fake flowers exchanged (Minnie and the Princesses like these) and miniatures of the characters themselves given. These are great if your child is non-verbal, or freezes when meeting new people. The exchange can happen without any words, but with a smile and a hug if the child would like.
Remember that the characters do not always have a lot of time, but they’re always gracious and kind. If your child does not like characters, don’t force them to interact. Perhaps ask them to take a photo from the side of their character or wave at the character, if that is what they’re comfortable with.
Family Introductions in Line
There is no way around waiting in line at Disneyland. Whether it be for a ride, food, or meeting a character, there is going to be some waiting. Guaranteed.
Use this time to talk to other families. As the parent, you can start and model a conversation and then have your child join in. Suggest they start the conversation the next time you’re in line using the same questions. Good news is, if the other family isn’t very responsive, the lines move pretty quickly and you can move on.
Suggestions to ask:
- Where are you from? What grade are you in?
- What’s your favorite ride? What is your favorite Disney character?
- Have you been to Disneyland before? Or Disney World?
- Compliments are always nice ice breakers. Do you love their t-shirt? Let them know and ask where they got it.
- Ask where they found that awesome Mickey Mouse watch they’re wearing.
Once the conversation gets started, step in if you find your child is struggling to think of more questions. Or step back if your child is engaging and talking. Try not to police the conversations too much as you want them to feel empowered and learn to navigate their own conversations.
After you’re away from the family, continue the conversation. Ask your child the information that you already know the answers to, but see if they remember. “Where was that boy from?” “What was his favorite ride?” Don’t be a drill sergeant, this is meant to ask as an interested parent.
Use Organic Moments
There are many magical moments throughout the day at Disneyland for interaction. Even the littlest of things can turn into social skills opportunities.
- If your child bumps into someone while walking, encourage them to say “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry, it sure is crowded today.” Also model facial cues like smiling when excusing yourself, or a concerned face when someone is bumped and you’re apologizing.
- Before ordering remind them to say “Please” and “Thank you,” but don’t badger. Think friendly reminder like, “Remember princesses say please and thank you.”
- If you’re waiting for the parade and someone steps on your blanket, have them say, “Excuse me, you’re stepping our our blanket.” Work on tone that is pleasant and not overly aggressive. Also, this is a great time to work on volume control.
- Is someone in your child’s space and they start bulldozing through the line? Help them to articulate that they need some room by saying, “Please give me some body space.”
It’s always okay for them to ask what they need. Don’t be worried about offending anyone. If they are, that’s just life and not your concern. Help your child be their own advocate and not worry about how anyone else feels.
Reinforce the Positive
Most importantly, reinforce the great job they did. If your child asked a cast member directions, let them know you really liked the way they spoke clearly. Did they chat with a little girl from Kansas while waiting for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? Let them know you were impressed with the way she listened while the little girl talked to her.
Find the positive points from the day and focus on those to build social skills on.
If they need improvement, that’s okay. Don’t berate them or tell them they did it wrong. Just encourage them to try again and keep modeling appropriate interactions. For example, my son can be pretty inappropriate. Sometimes he likes to shock and awe people by telling an outlandish tale, but I try to let him be him and not make him into a mini-me. Usually people find him entertaining, so I’ve learned to let my preconceived notions about the way things are supposed to be go and only step in with our secret code word if he’s being too inappropriate.
Have any other Disneyland Social Skills ideas for us? We’d love to hear them! Send us a note at PeaceAutismandLove@gmail.com
Find our BEST sensory GIFT for TEENS here! Our Best Sensory Gifts for MOMS (teachers, sisters, friends!) here.