Visiting Disney with special needs children can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Long waits, loud sounds, no breaks, different foods.
These things would be a challenge for any kid. But when you have a kid with special needs it can be a nightmare. Not just a normal nightmare either. Like the bill at the end of the trip.
It would be a final exam, that I didn’t study for, including an oral presentation, in front of every girl I ever had a crush on, and I forgot to wear pants.
As some of you may know my younger daughter is a bit of a handful. Diagnosed with ADHD, and some sensory issues she always keeps life interesting.
But thanks to some research and a few good tips my wife and I were able to take steps to make it an awesome trip.
7 – Go when it isn’t as busy
Ok, if I am being honest, there is no such thing as a non-busy day at Disney World. There are always a ton of people there, and most of them always seem to be in-line in front of me.
But there are some days that are less busy than others. If your kid is like mine a ton of people everywhere can be a bit over-stimulating. Which means we are that much closer to a tantrum or meltdown.
How do you find these days? Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Disney likes to make money. So when they think they will be busy they up their prices. If you see a few days that are cheaper, Disney is expecting those days to be less crowded.
Don’t feel like doing the research yourself? Check out a site like the Disney Tourist Blog that keeps track attendance and can tell you when the crowds might be doing something else.
6 – You need a stroller
I know what you’re thinking. “My kid is 5 or 6 or 9. They don’t need a stroller.” Well, you’re wrong because yes, they do.
There is a lot of walking at Disney World. Which is great at first. You are burning that never-ending bank of energy.
But then you realize you have to control that unpredictable ball of energy among a few thousand people. Putting them in the stroller can be the best way to keep track of them and keep them safe.
It also helped when she got tired. We always had a place for her to sit. I wish I always had a place to sit but according to my wife, I am too big to ride in the stroller when I get tired.
5 – Bring things to do in line
Another one that seems obvious but for some reason no one is doing it. The lines at Disney are long. There is no other way to describe it. If something at the park is worth doing there is probably going to be people waiting to do it.
We did the obvious and downloaded a movie and a few games on to our phones. But we also brought a few snacks and a few surprise toys to keep her busy.
It didn’t stop every in-line meltdown but I feel it definitely helped us keep the number of tantrums down.
When it comes to rides, the real question is why there is a line at It’s a Small World. I would compare waiting in that line to waiting in line to go to Guantanamo Bay, except at Disney it would probably cost more.
4 – Bring hearing protection
I wish this one would have been my idea. But it was suggested by a friend. Our daughter has a few sensory issues to go along with her ADHD. Most notably to sound.
So picking an amusement park with loud rollercoasters, constant music, noisy rides, tons of people and nightly fireworks shows was probably not our best idea.
We found these on Amazon and let me tell you they were a life-saver. She would put these earmuffs on and sit there happily while things were blowing up all around her.
As a bonus, they fit me too so I can use them when I am mowing the yard, or when I want to watch the football game and my wife and kids are trying to distract me.
3 – Schedule breaks
There is a lot to do at Disney World. Tons of rides, shows, places to eat. It can be overwhelming for anyone.
I can be worse for a kid with special needs. Constant lights, loud sounds, tons of people, constant nonstop stimuli. When I realized how much I needed a break I knew she must need one too.
Sometimes the breaks were finding one of the few quiet spots in the park and sitting down. Maybe one of the breaks was going back to our hotel for a bit. One day the break was just letting our daughter go wild at a playground.
Fortunately, my wife plans for everything, including the breaks. Which is great because since she planned everything I don’t have to do anything.
That’s right, my wife is the boss when we are on vacation. You may call it being whipped. But I call it permission to be lazy.
2 – Get a disability line pass
This was probably one of the most important things we did to help our daughter. Disney created what they call the Disability Access Service. They define it as;
The DAS is designed to accommodate guests who aren’t able to wait in a conventional queue environment due to a disability (including non-apparent disabilities).Disney Parks.
This service works similar to Disney’s FastPass+ Service. After getting the pass at guest services you can check into any ride and get a return time equal to whatever the current wait is.
You are then free to do whatever it takes to keep your kid happy while you wait. In my case that usually meant either a snack or walking around the gift shops.
Once our wait is over we return to the ride and are able to enter through the FastPass entrance. There will still be a line and a bit of a wait but it is much less than having to stand in line for hours.
This is an awesome service I highly suggest any kid with special needs takes advantage of it. Just don’t abuse it.
1 – Be proactive
Look, no one knows about your kids needs better than you. If your kid needs something ask. Disney’s first goal is, well, to make money. But a close second is a great guest expeiriance.
Disney’s service is second to none and that extends to special needs kids. Take advantage of the disability pass, talk to the chefs, if your child needs something, talk to a cast member. They will do whatever they can to help.
If you’re looking to see why I love Disney check out my post called Let Me Tell You Why This Dad Loves Disney.
Are you planning a trip to Disney sometime soon? Do have concerns whether or not Disney is able to accommodate their needs? Check out their web page or Email with your specific concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org