My husband, Frank, was Disney’s greatest fan.  Therefore, we took our children often to the original Disney park.  When Disney was planning EPCOT’s attraction, The Land, they called NASA for suggestions regarding how to grow food in space.  Somehow, the call landed at  Frank’s desk.  His idea was part of their exhibition for several decades. 

Yet, one of the things that did not appeal to me was watching the melt down of parents after a long day of fun at the theme parks.  Sure, you expect the children to react by melting emotionally into their weariness.  However, parents were often worse than their children. My husband and I would smile at each other at the families’ excited reaction as they spied the entrance of the parks for the first time.  The happiness they shared with their children was all but tangible. 

Then as the day’s excitment wore thin and their children’s senses had been assaulted with fun and adventure, parent’s eyes would glaze over and their patience would be gone.  The children would cry and the parents would take on the wounded look of betrayal.  As their internal calculator added up what this trip was costing, they would look at their weeping child and wonder why they are acting the same way they always act at 3:30pm–with a melt down.

Soon afterward, the parents’ own melt down would begin.  This was not an attractive sight. 

I no longer have small children to take to the Florida theme parks, but I still take the members of Special Gathering who are part of the mentally challenged community.  Whether a small intimate group of three or multiple van loads, they seem to react differently to the over stimulation they encounter.  Here are some things I’ve learned from our members who are developmentally delayed in encountering situation that are more than my senses can endure.

1.  Begin with prayer and pray often during the day.  We always begin our adventures with prayer.  If I forget, they don’t.  Then during the day, when things get hectic, they will say, “Can’t we pray?”

2.  When you are too tired to move, sit down to rest. Danny could no longer endure the rides of Sea World.  When we tried to push him to delay his rest for the next planned spot, he sat in the middle of the road and refused to move.

3.  Moderate your excitement and expectations.  Because our members are not always able to process multiple sensory stimuli, they remain calm, even at the beginning of the day. 

4.  Don’t push yourself to do everything in one day.  Our members aren’t interested in pushing beyond their endurance.  At 3pm, they want to go home.  What they haven’t seen isn’t important to them. The greatest thing that has happened to families who are having a Central Florida vacation has been the hotels that are on or near the site of the day’s adventure soparents can take their children “home” for a rest and return later in the evening.

5.  Keep food in your stomach.  I’ve noticed that when we try to delay lunch, happiness fades quickly.  Keep protein snacks available. 

6.  Have a plan, set a schedule and stick to it.  It’s been completely necessary to keep our day’s activities on schedule for your members.  Because I’m a more spontaneous personality, this is difficult for me.  However, it is important for everyone to understand the plan of action and keep the plan as directed.

7.  Keep it simple.  Our members love the joy and excitement of going places together.  But I’ve learned that the simplier we keep our day’s or week’s adventure, the better they like it.

My melt downs happen at places other than Disney or other theme parks.  In fact, if I don’t follow these simple rules on a daily basis, I’m prone to melt down no matter what I’m doing.

What about you?  What are some things you’ve discovered that work?  How will these steps benefit you?  Why won’t they work for you?

Read more: