Autism 101: Taking A Trip on the Polar Express

We took a family trip to this winter break. The trip was wrapped around a ride on the gorgeous Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express, in Williams, Arizona.

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This is our second time, the first was when the boys were very young. The adults in our family loved the magical train ride, the caroling and the visit with Santa. I wanted to go again when Max was old enough to enjoy it, but I also knew that for as much as Max would love it, it would have some elements that Brady would not like. Like most families we can’t please everyone all the time but I knew we could find a way to put together a winter break that would allow everyone to make good memories.

brady in the snow

For this post, I asked Brady to write his impressions about the trip in case an ASD kid is looking for an autistic perspective before a trip. I will leave out the details about the Polar Express as the experience is popular and well documented elsewhere. I couldn’t find much for family with an autistic family member, so I know Brady can contribute in this area. As a disclaimer, all autistic children are different and my child’s perspective is simply his. Brady is 7 1/2 and in 2nd grade. I ask him to help me write because, it helps him express himself. It validates him when people visit and comment and it develops him as an advocate, a trait he needs to live an independent life. Like some children with Asperger’s Brady has a great vocabulary, these are his words. I think when he is not stuck for words he has a talent for expressing himself. Thanks for coming on our journey with us.


Brady’s 5 Tips for an ASD person on the Polar Express

1. Bring headphones to wear. The trip is designed for neurotypical kids who love to yell all at the same time. This is very exciting for them. Most times when a big room of children are together everyone wants to yell or cheer. The headphones will help. I sat by the window and looked out the window and that helped too.

2. Bring a blanket, the trip is very long and you can hide under the blanket to get a break from the people. Some people wear pajamas. My brother wore pajamas. I did not have any that were warm enough and layering was not comfortable so I wore comfortable clothes instead. If you are comfortable you will have a better time.

3. The hardest part of the trip was 2 times. There is the “time tunnel.” This is a tunnel full of lights that acts as a magic portal to take you to the North Pole. When you go through the tunnel the first time, the lights are blue. Everyone screams very loudly. This is not fun. On the way back you know that it will happen again, and it does. The lights are red this time. Everyone will scream like crazy. There is no stopping them. This is why headphones will be helpful. I did not like the yelling at all. But then I found humor in it because it is funny how much some children love to yell at the same time. Sometimes you have to laugh at people they are so strange.

4. Your ASD kid will probably like the M compartment or maybe F to W because there is a front and back and the you don’t want to be front or  back because they blow the horn at railroad crossings. They have to do this because it is a train. It is not part of the show. If you are in a middle car it will not be so loud. (Mom note: I put this down as Brady said, but maybe when you buy tickets you can ask for a car a distance from the horn. We were in the first car. Not sure if it can be helped).

5. They say that Santa is going to give you a gift. If this concerns you, you can click this link and I will show you what it is (yours might be a different color than in the picture).  He will not talk to you for very long because he needs time for other kids. He goes down the train car in order so you can see when you will be next. He alternates sides, he does not go up one side and down the other, he stops in the middle and talks to a child on one side then a child on the other then he advances to the next row.

christmas tree

Mom Note: We built in a multi-day trip to Flagstaff around our Polar Express. We stayed at the Little America Hotel which has beautiful lighted grounds, we played in the snow and rode our sled (purchased for $20.00 at Basha’s–is a local business and always less crowded than Wal Mart) in the pine forest behind the hotel. We made a side trip to the Meteor Crater and we enjoyed some local restaurants like Brandy’s and the Galaxy Diner. It was a picture perfect family vacation. I think if you accommodate all family members, get good rest and regular meals everyone will have a great time. If you eat at Brandy’s (recommend) it is always busy, so Brady and I sat at the counter in the corner and had a peaceful meal and the rest of the family ate at big table. It worked out fine.


6 thoughts on “Autism 101: Taking A Trip on the Polar Express

  1. great information Brady, thanks so much for taking the time to share your perspective! I’m glad you found a way to make it enjoyable. You are such a good big brother to work hard to participate in the things Max will enjoy too. People are funny, I love that you can find humor in the world without making fun of people or being unkind and that your mom and dad teach you to appreciate others differences…it is what makes the world go round! I don’t think kids ever grow out of screaming together in a group, for all kinds a crazy reasons, and even adults do it sometimes…it never stops being silly!

  2. Excellently clear and detailed information, Brady! You gave some great advice and I really appreciate it! I especially loved the headphones tip: Sometimes people can be too much for me, and having some headphones helps me relax too. I’m glad y’all had a great trip!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience, Brady. You are learning so much about yourself and other people. Your headphones are such a great tool for you to share time with others and yet not become overloaded. Good for you. I am very proud of you and loved reading about your perception of the ride on the Polar Express.

  4. I really enjoy reading about your experiences, Brady. And, I love being able to understand it from your perspective. Very valuable advice…thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. This is amazingly helpful as we plan for next year and it sounds like Brady has similar sensory issues to my daughter. Thank you for the wonderful advice Brady! Sammy will be able to enjoy it next year


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