Legoland amusement parks.
For some this brings up images of happiness and joy. Childhood memories fueled by adrenaline and sugar.
For parents of kids with sensory processing disorder this can conjure up images of epic meltdowns, chaos and struggle.
This is absolutely true for us and our sensory kids. Add in a layer of trauma and anxiety disorder, and I know some of you will understand why we have avoided places like Legoland, Disney and other amusement parks.
Well, that is until this year when we went to Legoland in California. And EVERYTHING WAS AWESOME!
OK, actually it started out pretty horrible, with one kid puking everywhere and the other hunched up in a state of panic, ready to explode into fight or flight at the slightest provocation.
The first few hours were pretty rough.
But it got better.
A whole lot better!
And by the end we all agreed it was an amazing two days and the boys can’t wait to return.
So what did we do to experience this miraculous success in the face of sensory overload?
The STEAM Powered Family tips for Legoland with Sensory Processing Disorder:
1. We went mid-week in January. A time when it’s so quiet the resort actually closes for two days of the week. That doesn’t mean there were no crowds, but they were definitely thinner.
2. We booked a one night stay at the Legoland hotel. This way we could return to the hotel easily for quiet breaks, but being the Legoland Hotel, the vacation never stopped (this hotel is truly an amazing place for kids!). The kids could still have lots of fun in the hotel if the park became too much.
3. We researched where to eat. Preston is our pizza boy. It’s his comfort food. When I told him there was an all you could eat pizza buffet he was so excited! He was also too worked up to really enjoy it, and only ate two pieces of pizza, but that comfort food still helped sooth him.
4. The old adage of “divide and conquer” worked beautifully. Jackson was ready to go and hit all the attractions(after he puked everywhere), so Derek took him on the rides while I sat with Preston in a quiet area where he could watch from the sidelines until he was ready.
5. We did our research. Sites like Tripadvisor are amazing. We knew which rides to hit up first. We knew where to sign up for the Mindstorms (affiliate link) robotics workshops (highly recommended for 9 years and up). We divided the park into sections. Doing the most important rides and activities first. That way we could come back on day two and do them some more, or hit any of the places we missed on the first day.
6. Staying at the hotel gave us early access to certain areas of the park. We took full advantage of this by leaving the early access rides for our second day during the time when the lines were short.
7. We let the kids take the lead. It took about three hours for Preston to be ready to participate. I let him have all the time and space he needed. Once he started on the attractions, he wanted to go again and again and again. There is one rollercoaster we did at least twenty times as a family.
8. We made the vacation about the kids and their unique needs. We didn’t cram in lots of different experiences (see #7 and us riding the same rollercoaster over and over!), we let them decide what they wanted to try, and what they wanted to skip. We agreed going into this that it was all about them and they could make these decisions.
9. Most parents of sensory kids will already know this one well… make sure all the necessary assistive items and comfort items are packed. Whatever your kid needs: weighted clothes, headphones, or in our son’s case his baseball cap. Don’t forgot these!
10. Our most important key to success? We had fun and embraced the moment. Our kids are young and this kind of experience is not something we get to do very often. The good, the bad, the panic attacks, the puke, we embraced it all as wonderful family memories. Something we will hang onto forever.
And to round off our list of tips: What we did wrong… We should have packed extra clothes! I didn’t anticipate the puking which coated Jackson from head to toe requiring a whole lot of laundry in the sink with tiny little shampoo bottles.
Our vacation may not have been the intense, high-paced, action-filled time that a lot of families have at Legoland, but for our family it was absolutely perfect. And best of all? Our kids walked away with increased confidence and a drive to take on new experiences.
Thanks for the memories Legoland!