This post was sponsored by Legoland California, but all opinions are based on my own experience.
When you have a child with autism, every day things take a little bit more thought and planning, including visiting theme parks. As Isla gets older and AJ and I get more experienced in learning her rhythms and triggers, these things only get easier. But, as a mother to an autistic child, I always think hearing how others have navigated new environments is really helpful, so I wanted to share our experience at Legoland California.
Legoland California offers an Assisted Access Pass for guests with special needs, including autism, which allows them no wait time for the first ride, and then a reservation like system for all subsequent rides. This is extremely helpful for children who are unable to wait in the general line. However, when you have autism, your experience depends on more than how long you have to wait for a ride.
If you think about all the things your senses take in when at a theme park- the sights of all the attractions, the smell of the concessions, the music playing throughout, the fatigue of being on your feet and standing more than on a typical day. All of those things are “deposits” in your “sensory bucket,” which can fill up quickly and lead to dis-regulation and meltdowns. This even happens to neurotypical people in this kind of environment! But, in our experience, the atmosphere at Legoland was mellow and there weren’t any large “deposits” that sent her over the edge. I don’t know if these things are intentional, but here are some things I noticed that eased the sensory input for Isla:
Sensory Friendly Features
I don’t know if Legoland intentionally built these things in, but as a parent to a child on the autism spectrum, I appreciated them nonetheless!
- Most lines in the park were spacious and not too cramped. Being in close quarters while waiting can be difficult.
- The music wasn’t super loud and overpowering either.
- Almost every ride is interactive, from something as small as a steering wheel on the Safari Trek, controlling the direction on the Sky Patrol helicopters, or the treasure hunt on LEGO City: Deep Sea Adventure. This allowed her to participate in the ride and determine how she took in the sensory input, instead of just consuming the input.
- The Police and Fire Academy was also unique because you have to propel the vehicle, then get out to put the fire out. For some with autism, that may be too many transitions too quickly, but for Isla, it provided a physical output which is key to keeping her sensory system regulated.
- The hand dryers in most bathrooms were very quiet and the self-flushing toilets weren’t overly sensitive. This may seem silly, but those unexpected noises can really send you over the edge when you “sensory bank” is nearly full. (Side note: as a parent who often has a child in a stall with me, I loved how each stall was extra wide!)
- Kai’s Spinners and Cole’s Rock Climb in the Ninjago area are perfect for sensory input. Each time we walked by, we spent a few minutes at each, which helped balance the standing still and waiting and regulated her sensory system.
- There are many quiet places tucked throughout the park. Dedicated quiet spaces are at First Aid and the Baby Care Center, but Isla often has a hard time admitting when she needs some quiet time and she it would almost be a punishment to take her somewhere that secluded. Plus, I like to build these into the day to keep her “sensory bucket” from getting too full. Building stations with every LEGO imaginable are everywhere, which provides a great chance for any kid to take a break. The Lego Factory Tour was also perfect- there was something to see, but in a quieter atmosphere where she could regroup.
- I don’t know if this is due to weather or going midweek, but the crowd really thinned out after lunch time. This meant even shorter wait times and clearer walkways which made it that much more enjoyable!
As it turned out, we didn’t end up using the disability access pass. Isla has been to several other theme parks, so she is familiar with the line waiting process. Crowds were thin and lines were short, probably because of weather, so navigating the park was manageable. But, as any parent of an autistic child can tell you, coping skills vary from day to day (sometimes even hour to hour!), so it was comforting to know that option was always available should we need it.
We were in the park midweek on a drizzly spring day, which obviously is a different experience than a weekend in the middle of summer break. Lines were shorter for us and we were even able to ride a few back to back without even getting off. However, Legoland California has so many autism friendly amenities built into the experience, I really can’t imagine there would be a time too difficult to even attempt it (especially with the Access Pass)!
The other thing I loved about Legoland California was how accessible it was for Nolan. There were really only a handful of rides he couldn’t go on, but there was always something nearby to distract him while his sister went on a ride. I really thought that at (a few days shy of) 3, he wouldn’t have that much fun. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong! Both he and Isla were at the perfect age to take full advantage of Legoland California and the fact that it was so autism and sensory friendly made the day not only smoother for Isla, but for our entire family.
We were also able to go through the SeaLife Aquarium. We saved that for the end of the day and it took us about 45 minutes to explore everything. I think my kids were slightly too young for it. There were so many interesting exhibits and information that they were just too young to absorb. They do always enjoy looking at sea life though and had fun watching all the different creatures!
I’m so happy we included this in our San Diego itinerary. It really was the highlight of the trip for both kids and adults. If you have young children, especially a child with autism, Legoland California is a must see. We can’t wait to go back again!