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10 Ways to Make Comic Conventions More Enjoyable for Special Needs Families

We have recently started attending comic conventions as a family after discovering that our kids (ages 9, 12, 12 and 14) really enjoyed them. For anyone considering attending a convention, whether it is for comics, fandom, anime or video games, here are a few of my tips to help make the convention experience better for everyone.

1. Finding an event — until we started attending them, I had no idea there were so many conventions out there! A good source of information is Upcoming Cons. Most of the bigger conventions are on there, plus some of the smaller regional ones. You can also try Googling your city and “comic convention” and see what comes up. I was surprised to find two smaller conventions in my hometown that we now have on the calendar.

Wizard World conventions are held through the U.S., and while they may be costlier than others, they seem to be well organized.

2. Do your research — depending on the venue, there will be crowds, people in costumes (cosplay), vendor booths, panels and innumerable other events. You can often find videos of the convention you are considering on YouTube to watch with your child to gauge their interest in it.

Many of the local conventions have Facebook groups to discuss the convention and disseminate information. I have found these groups to be invaluable in seeking feedback on aspects of the convention.

I suggest also checking the event website or calling to find out what accommodations they have for special needs. It’s also a good idea to discuss the refund policy in the event you are not able to stay. I have found that many operate on a case-by-case basis as far as refunds go.

3. Consider your child — judge whether your child might enjoy attending a convention. As I mentioned before, YouTube videos of conventions might help to gauge interest.

4. Trial Run — Check with your local book or comic book store to see if they have any events scheduled that provide the opportunity for your child to try their hand at cosplay in a smaller setting.

Barnes and Noble have “Get Pop-Cultured” events happening during the summer at stores nationwide. This is my crew at one.

Kids at Barnes and Noble Doctor Who “Get Pop -Cultured” event

5. Celebrity Appearances — Guests can cancel their appearance! If you are communicating who is going to be there, I suggest using language like “supposed to be there” versus “will be there.” I learned this lesson the hard way at Louisville Fandomfest when we had tickets for three “Doctor Who” companions, and the day before the convention began, the announcement came that two of the three would not be there. There was a similar occurrence with the “Star Wars” actors where only Carrie Fisher appeared. The news did not go over well, but we made the best of it!

Arthur Darvill (Rory on Doctor Who) with kids at a comic convention
Arthur Darvill (Rory on Doctor Who) with Stephanie’s kids

6.  Go on the opening day — many conventions are more than one day (often Friday, Saturday and Sunday). In my experience, the first day is typically the least crowded and provides a much more relaxed con experience. Admission lines are shorter, and the vendor aisles are less crowded. We usually buy tickets for multiple days and use the first day as a “reconnaissance mission.” It’s the time we peruse the vendor booths, explore the layout and make sure all of our photo ops are in order (many cons require you to exchange your photo op ticket for a coupon — there is nothing worse than showing up to get in line only to be told you need to exchange it!). I also scout out potential “quiet” spots if they are needed and make sure everyone sees where the lost and found is located!

We usually go on Saturday and/or Sunday too because that is when many of the celebrity photo ops and other events are. Saturday is usually the most crowded day, so if that’s the only day you can go, I suggest downloading a map of the venue if it is available.

Admission for kids is often free with a paid adult admission, so that is always something to check!

7. What to Bring — I bring a backpack with an iPad, portable charger, ear plugs (or headset), Advil, sunglasses (it helps with visual overstimulation for one of my kids) and comfort items.

I am also the pack animal for any costume pieces my kids do not wish to wear any longer and purchases they might have made. Some convention centers have lockers available to rent, which might be very beneficial!

8. Food — consider bringing lunch or at least enough snacks to handle “hangry” kids. I have operated on the assumption that I will buy lunch for everyone only to find out that lines for food were long and slow (and you have likely stood in a few lines by that time!). The food itself is typically stadium food — and they might not have ranch dressing, which is something that spells disaster in my family!

9. Don’t Overstay — I know the signs of when my kids are crossing over into the meltdown zone, and I try to leave before that happens. If I can’t, then we’ll find a quiet area away from the main hall to have some chill out time or let them play around.

Kids posing with person in a bear costume at a comic convention
Cosplay and meeting new friends is fun!

10. Photo Ops — these can be an important part of the convention experience. Our average waiting time has been 25 minutes, and once they start, it goes fast! You don’t have a chance to talk to the celebs — you take the picture and they whisk you out of there! I have discovered the best chance of talking to a celeb is the autograph opportunity (which is another line, and again, make sure you have the correct ticket, coupon, etc. so you don’t get denied after standing in line). The better run conventions have people checking to make sure you have the correct items.

The cast of "Arrow" posing with a family at Wizard World Louisville

I would love to hear other tips you might have that I didn’t cover!

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