Thank you to Universal Studios for providing the opportunity to share our experiences of enjoying their theme park as a special needs family and to share our experience to help others.
We travel a lot to theme parks throughout California. Our 10-year-old, Autism Spectrum Disorder / Sensory Processing Disorder (ASD / SPD) son LOVES roller coasters (and so do his parents and sisters!). Despite his love for adventure, these theme park visits are not “easy” for him. He struggles with crowds, loud noises, and the confined waits in lines. We are grateful that every theme park has some sort of accommodation for kiddos like him.
We have encountered many people who complain about the accommodations we receive.
- Many say we should be teaching him to function normally by forcing him to wait in line like everyone else.
- Others say we are taking advantage.
- And even more, say that we are expecting more than they get from the same experience.
- A few have even said we should avoid these places, if it makes our son struggle.
Our response is simple: We would love to be able to trade places with you in that line. To not worry about the struggles our child faces on a daily basis. We would love to know that he will have a fulfilling and functional life. But reality is not this. Our reality is much different. So, yes, we pay the same amount of money to enjoy this time with our kids. We don’t want to forego these experiences, just because it isn’t always easy. We will be taking advantage of the accommodations provided, so we can enjoy his childhood.
Our most recent visit was to Universal Studios, for this kiddos 10th bday! He wanted to go so badly to see the Transformers Ride. It did not disappoint! He loved the ride AND Optimus Prime just happened to be walking by as we were getting into line! So exciting! But, he was too nervous to meet Optimus and get a picture, so we went straight to the ride!
What is Universal Studios policy for guests with Autism?
Upon entering the park, you head straight into Guest Relations. They were very friendly and did not even hesitate to accommodate when I asked what services they offered for children with Autism. She immediately pulled out a card and completed our information on it. Guests with Autism are allowed to share their card with up to 5 additional guests. Any additional parties will have to use the lines as any other guest would. With this card, you go to the entrance of the line for the ride you want. They will give you a new card with a time to come back. They base the time to come back on the length of time the current wait is. You can get multiple time cards at once, if you choose (unlike Disneyland, where you can only schedule one ride at a time). When your scheduled time arrives, the guest and their party goes through a “front of the line” or “VIP” entrance. The wait times in these lines were significantly shorter and less crowded!
There was mention of some other pass in Guest Relations that I don’t quite understand. She said if the autistic child is severely autistic and they knew the family was only going to be able to get maybe an hour or two to enjoy the park, they had another pass to accommodate. If you believe your child would become overwhelmed quickly and you may not enjoy a full day, please call guest relations and ask about this pass first! Share with me the information if you use it as well! I would love to know!
The downfalls of Universal Studios for an ASD/SPD kid.
- Every ride involves water. Not a lot of water, but as part of the 4D experience, you do get splashed with water. If your child struggles with wet clothes, to any degree, you may want to pack extra changes of dry clothes. The Jurassic Park ride is WET. Very wet. Our son almost had us buying him a new outfit after this ride. Luckily, it was hot and he dried quickly. The Minion Super Silly Fun Land is almost all water play! For this area, a swimsuit would be best! All other rides were just quick splashes of water. But for an ASD/SPD kiddo, that still may be too much.
- 4 out of 8 rides were 3D/4D simulated rides and even part of the Studio Tour was 3D as well. Basically, a large, dark, loud, movie that is also simulating real effects like wind, water, and even spiders on the ground. If your SPD child struggles with movie theaters, Universal Studios may not be the best place to visit.
- 3D/4D rides also require you to wear 3D glasses. He complained a lot that the glasses were dirty, that he could not see out of them, and that they were uncomfortable. I wonder if it’s possible to bring your own 3D glasses? Something to look into!
- There were no gluten free choices. As I’ve said, we travel theme parks a lot! Most theme parks have gluten free breads and desserts. We look forward to this part of each vacation because he can enjoy a hamburger with the rest of us. We were disappointed that Universal Studios did not have these options. He could have gotten fresh fruits and veggies or grilled chicken. However, as a 10 year old, he doesn’t usually want a grilled chicken salad. He wants a hamburger and fries.
- Heat. This isn’t really anything anyone can control. Universal Studios is not very near the coast and it gets HOT in the Summer months! If your ASD/SPD kiddo is like mine and “hates weather”, you may prefer to visit during cooler months.
The positives of Universal Studios for an ASD/SPD kid.
- Many ASD kiddos love the technical, behind the scenes type of stuff to tv and movies. This is exactly what Universal Studios offers them! He loved the Studio Tour and being able to decipher what was “real” and “fake”. He loved experiencing something and then being able to watch the same on the TV as part of the ride!
- Characters. Although our son doesn’t like saying hi to characters, he sure does love seeing them! We saw Spongebob, Dora, Minions, the sisters from Despicable Me, Optimus Prime, Scooby Doo Frankenstein, and Dracula.
- Even though it’s hot, Universal Studios knows how to keep their guests cool! They had swamp cooler type fans every few feet.
- The rides! So, if your ASD/SPD child doesn’t mind movie theaters, like mine, then they will love the rides! Cameran especially loved that Minion Mayhem completely mimicked the game he plays on our ipad! It made him feel as though he was a part of the game!
My tips for other visiting families.
- Pack snacks! You are allowed to bring in food and water. So, if your child is gluten sensitive, like so many on the spectrum, you can absolutely bring your own gluten free options into the park!
- Bring one or two changes of clothes. For reasons I already mentioned!
- If you are visiting during warmer months, purchase a Frogg Togg or something similar. Frogg Togg’s are only $10 at Walmart in the sporting goods section.
- If you can afford it, buy the Front of Line Passes for your entire party! We were fortunate enough to have these and they are actually amazing! There’s no waiting for a scheduled time to come back to the ride. You can immediately go through to the front of line section. Keep in mind, these passes are only able to be used once on each ride. For us, that seemed plenty though!
- Plan quiet time. Try to eat lunch early or late to avoid the crowds and to be able to sit inside, in a quiet place, for as long your kiddo needs the downtime. During actual lunch time, there were hour long lines and nowhere to sit, inside or outside. Same for dinner time.
- If your child does struggle with the loud noises of movies, perhaps bringing some ear plugs would greatly benefit. Or headphones.
Overall, we had a good time. We enjoyed each ride and it was an experience we will not soon forget. I wish I had been more prepared, but since I wasn’t, I get to write this to help you be more prepared! We want to thank Universal Studios for a wonderful disability policy and for understanding that children with Autism and their families deserve the chance to fully experience the park, as any other family would. I would love it if you guys would begin to introduce gluten free food choices!
Our next adventure? Legoland! See you soon <3