Taking a hyperactive child to amusement park or on a Disney vacation can be a challenge. But it can also be quite enjoyable if you plan well, stay flexible, and maintain a healthy mindset.
This past October we had the opportunity to take our two children to Disney World in Orlando Florida. Our youngest, who is 3 years old, is quite hyperactive and considered ‘at risk’ for ADHD. So much so that, upon observing our son’s behavior, one of the Disney staff members portraying the character of Aladdin affectionately referred to him as a “little blonde monkey dressed up like a human.” Hence, in this article we will refer to our ‘little monkey’ as ‘Abu.’
You would think that, as a pediatrician and a psychiatrist, we would ‘have it together.’ We did make some reasonable preparations in advance, but over the four days of our trip we made more than our share of mistakes and learned some lessons the hard way.
Here are some tips we would like to share with you:
- Try to stay on a healthy regular schedule as much as possible. A lack of sleep can exacerbate hyperactivity and other symptoms of ADHD.
- Avoid exhausting your child. Try breaking up your visits to the park into 4-5 hour intervals with breaks to your hotel in between. If you are going to stay out late into the evening hours, take a break in the middle of the day for a long nap.
- When eating in the park, don’t expect your child to finish eating all their food during meals. They will be very excited to be in the park, and that is okay. Don’t have a ‘clean your plate’ battle with your child.
- Eat healthy food whenever possible. Try packing some healthy snacks so you can avoid sugary snacks that are sold in the park. But don’t sweat it if you child wants to indulge in some sweets for the day. Its okay to get some ice cream or chocolate. Just beware the effect of sugar in the late evening hours.
- If your child is on medication for ADHD, bring it and have your child take it as usual. This is not a day to skip medication.
- Keep yourself and your family well hydrated. If the park does not provide free water, bring your own. And remember that soda products are neither healthy nor hydrating.
- Waiting in long lines can be very difficult for a hyperactive child. Many parks, including Disney, provide special accommodations to children with more significant cases of ADHD and other disabilities – such as the ability to bypass the line. Family members, including siblings, can join their child and jump straight to the front of the line. Inquire with the park’s Guest Services regarding “Disability Access Services” (as the service is called at Disney). Disney does not currently require a note from a doctor, but other parks may and our office will be happy to provide.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Remember you are here for your child’s enjoyment, not for yourself.
If your child does get a little “wild and crazy” for a moment, have a good sense of humor about it. And have fun. We actually used our little monkey ‘Abu’ to get revenge on a couple of snotty 20-year-old girls who cut it in front of us in line by letting our little Abu run loose for a few minutes and resisting the urge to tell him to keep his hands to himself. A few head butts and elbows to the ladies’ legs and they were wishing they had not cut in front of us in line.