October 28, 2015

Autism at Dollywood: Our Dollywood Therapy Session

We went to Dollywood!  After we went to Special Needs Day at our local county fair, we decided we could handle Dollywood.  We stayed at Wilderness at the Smokies.  The indoor waterpark was fun, and the room was very nice, but I'm not going to get into the experience we had there at this time.  I'm going to keep this post positive.

Dollywood was amazing.  All of the staff was very friendly, and the park is very charming.  

We won some tickets in a silent auction, but we still had to buy three more tickets.  (By the way, Dollywood donated those silent auction tickets to our school fundraiser, so more brownie points for them!)  We went to guests services to get our silent auction tickets and to ask where to go for accommodations for people with special needs.  (Of course, we called ahead of time to find out what they offer...a must for an vacation with a child with autism.)  The woman behind the counter gave us 30% off of the rest of our tickets!  She said, "You have enough stress in your life!"  It was such a pleasant surprise, and we were very grateful.

They gave us a disability pass that acts as a fast pass for the whole family for the rides that have super long lines.  You do still have to wait a few minutes with the fast pass.  The lines in the kids area were very short - often times we didn't have to wait at all.  There were a couple bigger kid rides we went on with a monstrous line, and we got to hop right to the front with our disability pass.  Brandon did a great job waiting in the short lines for the kid rides, but a 45 minute wait is not feasible for him at this time.  He doesn't understand the concept of waiting.  Having small lines to work with helped us to teach him how to wait.  We were able to teach him that he is indeed going to get to ride, he just can't go the second we walk up there.  He started to understand that we were actually waiting for the ride, whereas before he thought he simply wasn't getting not the ride.  Not only that, any tantrum throwing he did before (at the fair) was probably perceived by him as how he got to ride the rides eventually - not because it was actually our turn.  He likely assumed we gave into his antics.

Switching to a 45 minute wait would negate all the work we had done so far.  He got to enjoy Dollywood without one single meltdown.

I was a little nervous about the disability pass.  Autism is an invisible disability.  When people saw us essentially cut the line, what would they think?  I don't care what they think about me - that's not what the nervousness was about.  I want people to understand that not all disability is physically apparent.  When I realized we were going to the fast pass line, it was evident that the people we cut in line would assume we had a fast pass...not that we had a family member with a disability.  Still, I felt the urge to say, "Our son has autism.  Cutting this line is going to prevent him from having a meltdown, and learn how to wait in lines."  It's not about what people think about us.  It's about what people know about autism.  We are everywhere.

Obviously, I did not give everyone at Dollywood a crash course lesson about autism.  Although, in the back of my mind I was coming up with comebacks if anyone did have some comment about us cutting the line.  I do that frequently...more than I'd like to admit.  I want to know the perfect thing to say to put people in their place so they think twice about running their mouths in the future, but to also educate, so that they don't even feel the need to open their mouths in the first place.  Maybe they will give a heartfelt smile instead.

Not only did he have a blast, but Brandon had a learning opportunity.  It was like Dollywood therapy session!  He made giant steps towards learning to wait.

This autism family will definitely be back at Dollywood!


  1. How fun! It's funny that you have your comebacks in your head ready to go. I do the same thing with my son. I feel like the first person that says anything to me is gonna get an earful. :)

    1. I do it all the time! I think, "I DARE you to say something!"

  2. What a great article, and I'm so glad your son and family had a great time. I stumbled onto your page while searching to see if Dollywood had anything such as a pass for special needs. My son is 10 and has Down Syndrome. NO WAY he would wait in a 45 minute line!! We took him years ago when Disney still had the GAP passes, and we needed a Dr's note....like you can't tell he's got DS!! Hello! But I was wondering if you also needed any documents at Dollywood as well?

    Michele Cheramie

    1. Hello Michele! We actually just got back from our Disney vacation yesterday! I'll blog about that as well. Disney doesn't require the diagnosis paperwork or doctor's note anymore. I guess I could see why they might want it for autism because it's invisible and I'm sure selfish people take advantage of it...but sheesh...you're right! What is the point when you can see he obviously has DS!? I'm glad they did away with that at Disney.
      We didn't need any paperwork at Dollywood. We just told them our situation and they gave us what we needed (including that 30% off!) Everyone there was just so friendly! Good luck! :)

  3. Thank you for posting this!!!! I'm researching for our family, for our son and what they do (compared to like Disney) for ASD and lines and this helped me SOOOO much!! Thanks again!!! I hope this is something we get to do! Lines would not make for an enjoyable trip.

    1. I am so glad to hear that! Have you heard that Dollywood actually now has a calming room? I'll find the link and post it here in the comments!

    2. "Families of children with autism now have a place to go at Dollywood for a quiet, relaxing environment if they experience sensory overload.

      It is called a calming room, and it is the first of its kind at any theme park in the world. All the sights and sounds of a theme park can be a little too overwhelming for children with autism, so having a quiet place to go can help them and their family."

      "While Dollywood is the first theme park in the world to have a calming room like this one, others are being designed right now at Legoland."


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