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How does Disneyland Paris accommodate an autistic child?

Simon Calder’s Travel

As we whizzed round the Buzz Lightyear ride in a cable car, shooting pretend laser guns at green aliens and psychedelic creatures from different planets in simulated space, my 12-year-old son Eddie squealed in delight: “This is the best ride ever!”

It’s hard to believe this is the same boy who had become so anxious at his last school, a mainstream primary, he hardly wanted to leave the house for a year. He was diagnosed with autism in 2019 but the ‘A’ word was first mentioned when he was a toddler.

Last June, after a long battle with the local authority, Eddie started a specialist school for children with autism and additional needs, and his confidence has improved hugely. It’s no exaggeration to say it has changed our lives.

So much so, that this year we decided to visit Disneyland Paris rather than hold a party for his birthday. He loves Legoland but we have visited the park twice and didn’t think we could do it for a third year in a row. We thought our other two children, Jemima, nine and Charlie, 15, would love it, too.

Expect a lego Mickey Mouse, pink turrets and waterfalls at Disneyland Paris
Expect a lego Mickey Mouse, pink turrets and waterfalls at Disneyland Paris (Georgina Fuller)

We were a little apprehensive. Eddie has something called sensory processing disorder, which means sensory experiences – loud noise, flashing lights, bursts of colours and so on – can be quite daunting for him. When he was younger these sorts of things would inevitably cause a meltdown, but we are able to navigate them better, and even enjoy them, now he is older. He is also very routine driven, so he needs lots of preparation for any new experience or activity.

We tried to prepare him as much as possible by showing him videos of rides beforehand, so he knew what to expect and gave him a visual plan of the park to look at.

The splendour of the huge Disneyland Park entrance, with its waterfalls and pink turrets, was dazzling. We were met by a member of the accessibility team, who ushered us through the gates for people with disabilities, including those with so-called ’invisible conditions’, such as autism. It felt like stepping into the world of Frozen, a land of make believe with shops, a gazebo and even its own little train.

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We were given a helpful accessibility guide that included advice on the ride times and which restaurants had high sensory levels, such as bright lighting…

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