Saturday, April 19, 2014 ..:: Special Needs » Disabilities » Managing ADD/ADHD at Walt Disney World ::.. Register  Login


 by Beth, M.A. (MiniMinnie)


 Travel has its own stresses without the fact that your child has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. While many parents work hard with the structure and support of helping a child with ADD/ADHD at school and home, often many ask why they have to continue to monitor a child’s behavior when traveling. Unfortunately, vacation is not the time to break away from the demands of managing your child’s behavior; but, it can be looked upon as a goldmine of reinforcements available to help achieve the behaviors desired at both school and home.  

Taking a break from the routine is part of vacation; however, letting a child’s behavior run wild on vacation can bring setbacks to the structure and routines you are trying to develop at home and school. While, charts and behavioral reinforcements and reward systems can be left behind there are methods to help reinforce a child’s behavior. Again, maintaining the structure and understanding will hopefully help keep the child on track upon returning home. The goal is to make life changes not changes for homework time or school only. This article will cover tips and recommendations that parents can easily incorporate to help keep the positive behaviors on track. 

So what does happen if you do take a break? You may often hear that the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is just an excuse for bad behavior. In fact, it’s not an excuse; but, it is the identification of a disorder, understanding and the need for structure. Breaking away from this structure reinforces the idea that a child has no control over their behaviors. Travel often includes lines, restaurants, over stimulation, distractions and more. A child has difficulty understanding that the parent is taking the break and learns that it’s okay to take a vacation from appropriate behaviors, the ones that are so difficult to maintain, paying attention, staying in line, responding when spoken to and more.

This article is not intended to over-ride the therapist and the goals outlined in therapy. It is to provide tips specifically for vacationing and travel with children with attention deficit disorder. This article addresses attention deficit and does not include advice or changes in routine for children with co-morbid disorders. If your child has additional developmental problems or there are other stresses from other family situations please consult your therapist to see what is best for you and your family.

There is a need to maintain structure and consistency when traveling with an ADD/ADHD child. Children with attention deficit disorder have difficulties with school, social situations, emotions and behaviors. When traveling, the same behaviors that are so important, are repeated throughout your travels especially to places like Disney World.The need to follow rules, wait your turn, stay in line, social skills like keeping your hands to yourself, respecting others in line, no in appropriate running, no shouting or yelling out, especially in attractions. Helping to regulate your child’s emotions is also important. Children fatigue easily and disappointments run rampant, missing a character, a favorite ride closed etc. Impulsivity is also a major problem. Children with ADD/ADHD are usually impulsive and distracted easily. Everything they see they want and in their eyes waiting is not an option. The parks can provide a plethora of learning opportunities. Don’t forget the child that can hyper-focus, the child that becomes focused on one detail and doesn’t want to do anything but that while the family is headed for dining reservations or ready to use a fast pass.

As a parent, or someone taking a child with ADD/ADHD, the best tool you can have is preparation. Set the structure for the child and be prepared to remind them of the vacation plans. The more problems you can anticipate the easier to prepare for these situations.


 Anticipate the crowds

  • Plan the approximate time you will spend in each park
  • Familiarize your self and plan for the popular rides
  • Utilize fast pass
  • Find which rides frequently run out of FastPass and plan accordingly
  • Have a plan of action in the parks
  • Plan meals close to your park of the day or your resort
  • Anticipate shows, parades and fireworks
  • Plan for naps and recuperation if necessary
  • Know your family and whether they are early or late risers and plan accordingly
  • Plan some down time
  • Plan activities to let off some steam
  • Prepare for the weather and how this may affect your plans


    A great time for last minute rewards Structure the time to help manage behavior especially with long trips Bring items like portable DVD players and coloring books Plan activities for the car such as license plate games, road signs or a favorite CD… make it a family activity. Check your first aid kit and be prepared for headaches, travel sickness or sinus problems especially for flying.


Your child may have some or all of these symptoms depending on their diagnosis.

 Hyper-activity, Impulsivity

Often fidgets, may have difficulty staying in line, sitting in a ride, may grab things or run to things inappropriately, may speak out of turn or blurt out during attractions. Remind your child or prepare rules in advance and encourage the appropriate behaviors.


Child often forgets the goal or task at hand, may see a balloon vendor down Main Street and take off or become bored with a ride and want out. Redirect the child when this occurs by reminding them of the activity they are to attend to or the group destination


Many children with ADD become hyper focused on a character or activity. The may want to repeat the same ride or focus on a specific character or attraction. This can lead to disappointment afterwards when they discover the attractions they have not visited and become a problem with other family members especially when traveling with several children. Plan accordingly with a possible revisit after the other attractions have been viewed. If there is a strong tendency to hyper-focus then consider a toy or souvenir representing the focus that can be carried from one activity to the other. Older children may become focused on particular rides or attractions and may put together an inefficient plan or schedule. Keeping to one park and one area of the park is time efficient.


In Disney World a child can often hypo-focus and want to skip from activity to activity without completing the attraction. This may happen with long lines or rides that are of little interest. Discussions and plans of activities can be helpful so that all members of the group can enjoy their favorites. Consistency is important here because you don’t want to set up a pattern of giving in to inappropriate behaviors such as whining or tantrums. If your child has a tendency to throw a tantrum, be prepared with an appropriate consequence

 Poor Social Skills

Inattentiveness and impulsivity often leads or contributes to poor social skills. Remind your child that respecting others, family as well as strangers, is important here. Mickey Mouse is often helpful here. Remind the child of “Mickey’s Rules” to stay seated or stay quiet etc. Remember the appropriate rules for standing in line, waiting your turn, staying with the group and using your “quiet voice”. Enforcing these rules will help everyone, don’t forget the vacation is intended for all members of the family.


Moodiness often accompanies ADD/ADHD. Most often when fatigue sets in along with disappointments after “waiting all day” for a favorite ride or activity the best of children become tired and irritated. Character signings and photos can bring disappointments and frustration when the line is long or closed. Shopping is another area of disappointment when they want to take everything home. Preparations for such actives are important. Set budgets, plan character meets and if possible attend the character “Meet n Greets”. Watch the diet too as this can often affect the child’s mood when over stimulated with caffeine or exhausted and hungry. 

 Tips for managing your child’s ADHD:

  •  Communicate. Set the rules in advance, Be clear and concise when communicating with your child and try to make eye contact and speak directly to the child. Give instructions one step at a time; make requests one at a time. Discuss consequences in advance. Remember too that communication is important because no one wants to miss the chance to see or do their favorite activity.
  • Be consistent. It is so important that you maintain consistency when on vacation. If you expect a behavior at home and school it should be expected while vacationing or dining out as well. Don’t give in just because you are on vacation, you are tired or your child is whining. 
  • Set a good example. Show your child the behaviors you would like to see. You are their role model for patience, respect and good manners. While it is often fun to be impulsive on vacation remember to complete the task at hand or explain changes in plans that affect the family. Organization will help keep the family informed and satisfied. Last minute changes in plans can often disappoint part or the entire group. A quick explanation of why often helps. There are many things outside of your control, rides break down, lines are long or you discover activities that are time-limited. Be prepared and remember that often children fear a change in activities. Children need to know if their plans are cancelled or just postponed.
  • Anticipate and avoid problems. Become adept at heading off trouble before it starts. Families know their child best and when they fatigue and what triggers many unwanted behaviors. Know your child’s triggers and what situations lead to problems. In the parks there will be many opportunities for disappointment, loss (missing a character, attraction, activity or even snack), long lines, over-stimulation, hunger, fatigue, loud noises, boring attractions (most often attractions that are more adult-like in focus) and more.
    Praise good behavior. Praise can often re-energize an ADD child in a positive way. When on vacation no one wants to nag or fight. Keep the praise to help reinforce your child’s positive behaviors. Keep your vacation upbeat to help reduce stress for all!  
    Diet. A healthy diet is important for all of us. While vacationing many of us tend to splurge. Remember that for most anything is acceptable in moderation. None of us can function well on sugar alone. Not only is the content of the diet important but the timing is also important. It is difficult to focus on an empty stomach or stand in line patiently. Also beware of excessive caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and so are many ADD/ADHD medications. Some doctors advise a vacation from medications while on vacation and others may even recommend the use of caffeine as substitute for medications. Please consult with your doctor before changing your child’s medication. Be aware of the caffeine your child consumes on vacation and the effects it may have.
  • Exercise. Research has demonstrated that exercise and outdoor activity can be beneficial to the ADHD child. Plan free time accordingly. Look for age appropriate activities to help your child let off a little steam and help you regroup as well. These activities can include some of the activity areas like “Honey I shrunk the Kids” in the Disney Studios or Pooh’s Thoughtful Spot in the MagicKingdom
    . Sometimes Radio Disney has activities at Downtown Disney. Check with the entertainment schedules for the parks and resorts. Swimming is another great down time activity and Disney has many wonderful pools. Planning these activities during the middle of the day can often help when it’s hot or crowded.
    Downtime. Children sometimes have trouble switching from a high level of activity to a low level of activity. Plan pre-time for the down times. Lines provide a nice prep for the more quiet rides. Children decrease their behaviors and adapt to quiet behaviors before a show or attraction. It is also important to help children begin to wind down before going to sleep at night. You can’t expect a child who has been running wildly through the lobby with a cola to quietly enter the room and get ready for bed. Help them transition to quiet time with slower activities. A good quiet bus ride to the resort often helps. Transition from the parks to the resort can be difficult for parents as well with sleepy, cranky tired children, lines for buses and the need for rest. Plan to save some energy to get your family to their resort.
     Consequences. Inevitably your child will have reason to have consequences. Be prepared and set up consequences that are realistic and result in consequences for only that child. To say you will never go to Disney again is not realistic or appropriate as this will punish all members of the family. To threaten to return to the room for inappropriate behavior is also one that is not realistic or appropriate. These types of consequences are often false threats or punish everyone. A false threat makes your consequences ineffective. While it may be necessary to return to the resort if one or more family members become fatigued, it should not be a consequence for one child that would effect the entire family and make others resentful. Set your rewards ahead of time. A great reward can be a special snack, going to Mickey’s Tent to see Mickey, a special photopass, (ask for any special inserts or characters they may add to your picture. This is also great because your child has to wait a while to see it and reinforces the delay of gratification.), repeating a favorite ride or a little extra spending money for a wanted souvenir.

    Managing your child’s behavior should be for life and not for specific activities. Remember to be consistent with your expectations. Expecting positive behavior when “Mickey is watching” can help develop positive behaviors that can last a lifetime. Have a wonderful vacation and please join us in our discussions to share your questions and successes.


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