Guest post by Denise Klipsic Ochsendorf
Shopping and visiting the Mall of America with Children with Autism is a challenge, but with careful thought to visit, it can still exciting, fun and a great day of shopping.
When to go to the Mall of America
The Mall is a Shopping complex, so its traffic patterns fall in line with any other retail outlet.Exceptions would be for special events and holidays which usually bring in a lot of people.
Recently, the Halloween event at Nickelodeon Universe and then an appearance by the cast of the Hunger Games paralleled the holiday traffic in the mall’s main corridors.
So it is important to check the mall’s event schedule before you go.You may not be able to plan around such events, but you can, at least, plan for them, if needed.
Regular Mall traffic patterns, I find mirror that of many theme parks.
Weekdays are the least busy.We find Monday and Wednesday are truly the best days to go if you are trying to avoid crowds. Mornings are also nice.
The Mall’s regular hours are 10 am, but they do open early for mall walkers.From 10am-Noon, even on weekends, there are relatively fewer shoppers, pending events.Holiday shopping hours are little more hectic, but the same rules apply: mornings and weekdays are the best, just not on Black Friday.
It is important to note that Tuesdays are Toddler Tuesday at the Mall.
This can be either good or bad for families with kids with autism. Toddler Tuesdays are good for free dining options for kids under 6 and discounts at various attractions, but it does bring a lot of young children to the mall (Crying babies, etc.)
Getting to the Mall
If you are staying Minneapolis or coming from the airport- the best bet is to take the light rail to the mall.
The light rail is relatively new, so it is clean and comfortable to ride.The Mall is its last stop, so it does take about ½ hour to make the journey from MPLS, but the time you save on parking is worth it.
Your children will love it too!
The train goes through tunnels and over bridges making it an added experience to your trip to the Mall.The ride will cost each person up to $2.75 a person with reduced fares for people with disabilities. Kids 5 and under are free.
If you come by car and are staying closer to the mall, you will want to park in the West Parking lot.
Both Parking Lots can be busy, but the west lot does not fill up as fast and has far less traffic.
One reason I recommend the west lot is also its location to nicer bathrooms, less busy entrances to the mall and elevators and the elimination of up/down steps to get to the skyways. Try to park on the lower level if you can, this just gives you different options to enter the mall and also is the same level as Guest Services if you need to rent a stroller or need other assistance.
Planning the day when your kid has autism
Based on where you come in, you will have different options.
If you come in at the center main Mall entrance, you will want to take the elevator/escalator to the main level if you need Guest Services.The elevators on this side are a little hidden if you come to the main entrance.
If you go towards the center of the mall, you should see the elevator closer to the inner walkway.
Check in here to rent your stroller ($6 single, $8 double).Wheelchair rentals are also available.
You can let Guest Services know you are traveling with a child with autism.
Make sure you have a picture and information for your child in case she/he gets lost.
You can leave it with them. (This is not a common practice, so you may need to fill in the details.
You can stop back after you leave to get your paperwork) *Paperwork can consist of a picture, your child’s name, and a telephone number. For more info:
If you choose to skip Guest Service, my recommendation is to stay away from the elevators in the Mall’s main corridors.
They are SLOW and Fill up fast. The Macy’s Elevator is nestled by the SW entrance door and is easy to use and it located right next to the bathroom. Other Anchor Store Elevators are tucked back a little bit but are a little less busy.
The Mall Corridors on the corners have a few elevators that I would recommend as well.
If you need Lockers, there are lockers at all main entrances to the mall on level 1. Levels 2 & 3 have them as well, but only on the East and West Side.
They come in all sizes and range from $6-$16 depending on the size. Lockers are great to use for those winter coats, as the mall gets pretty warm as it fills up.
Mapping out Bathrooms before you get started is a good idea.
The Mall has plenty of Bathrooms, but not all of them are suitable for families with children with autism.
I mentioned the Macy’s Bathroom before. This is a favorite of ours not only for its location but it usually pretty clean and it has a separate quiet area which is good for getting your kids away from all the noise and avoiding meltdowns.
Nordstrom’s have similar bathrooms. In the main mall corridors, you do have some options. I recommend the Family Restrooms. These are nice because they give you the space you may need and are private. They are next to the regular bathrooms on the first floor only. (They are quite busy, though, so you may have a wait.)
One final note before you get started
The Mall is full of sensory overload for many children with autism.
Depending on your child, you may want to have a plan for some way to deal with meltdowns if they occur.
There are quiet areas like those I mentioned in the mall, but you may find other areas that may work for you as start your day.
You will want to note where these areas are, as you can get turned around in the mall quite quickly.
Also, headphones or ear plugs are always a good option for your kids.We have a set of heavy duty sound masking headphones our daughter uses.
We also use blankets in the stroller to at least minimize the visual stimulation for our son, when he lets us.
Denise Klipsic Ochsendorf is an autism mom of two active kids and happy owner of a Twin Cities Kids Consignment Sale (Just Between Friends) as well as an avid Autistic Globetrotter who loves to travel the backroads of America and hopes someday to make it Europe with her family