Traveling to Walt Disney World with kids on the Spectrum? Here are some tips!
I am a single mom to two amazing kids and have been traveling to Disney and Universal regularly for the last 25 years, and even did an internship at Walt Disney World while I was in college! In addition to that, I am also a teacher of students in K-4 grade who have significant disabilities. My son, Jacob, has Autism and Epilepsy. With all of my experience both through doing the college program at Disney, teaching and with my son’s disability we quickly gravitated towards going on vacation as a family to Disney World each year. When you have Autism and other medical needs, going on vacation can be scary. Even with traveling as often as we do I still get nervous before every single trip (thank goodness for travel insurance to give me that peace of mind!).
What keeps us going back to Disney year after year is the real-life magic we experience there. We can all just be in the moment together. There are no doctors visits or therapy appointments. For the most part, we fit in and enjoy our trip just like everyone else (with a few accommodations of course!). I see a side of BOTH of my children that I just don’t see at home. They relax and laugh more, dance more, and enjoy being together as a family more.
Today I’m going to share some of the best tips that have helped my son with Autism enjoy Disney World more, and hopefully a few tricks to avoid meltdowns and maximize the joy of being on vacation.
Use these tips for a successful family vacation!
- Try to go in the offseason. It’s Disney and will always be busy. But there are still sometimes that are better than others!
- Get travel insurance. It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but I can’t tell you the peace of mind that it brings knowing that you are covered in case of emergency. Something happens and you need to cancel or move your trip? You’re covered. Lost luggage and need to replace that super comfy clothing with no tags? You’ll be reimbursed for your Target run. Trust me. It’s worth it!
- Know what the DAS is. The point of the DAS isn’t to have instant access to rides, but to be able to provide a safe way for everyone to have a magical time.
- Now that you understand it, consider getting the DAS. If you think your loved one may have safety issues with waiting in line, stop at guest services and check into the Disability Access Service Card. The DAS only works at attractions with a FastPass+ line. Plan Accordingly (and try to hit busier attractions right at rope drop so the line isn’t as long!).
- Use your FastPass+ in addition to the DAS to be able to limit wait times as much as possible. (Our last trip, we didn’t need to use the DAS as much because we had scheduled great FP+)
- Create some space in line. My son has a hard time waiting in lines for ANY amount of time. He gets very anxious with so many people so close to him. To help with this, I would stand a couple steps back so he’d have a little space between me and the person in front of us. The CM’s were really understanding when I explained why I wasn’t filling in all available space in front of me.
- Don’t let other guests worry you. Other guests aren’t always nice and understanding. I have to say sorry in advance! In my experience, no one has been directly rude to us. The worst I have experienced is comments about my son being in a stroller, or complaints about us taking up so much space (we don’t squeeze in tight at shows either, but don’t take up a HUGE amount of space- just enough for my son to not freak out!).
- Watch YouTube videos of rides and shows with your loved one with a disability so they know what to expect. This can make a big difference in being prepared, and is fun for the whole family to get excited!
- Teach your child what to do in case of emergency. In case of separation, show them pictures of name tags and teach them to look for someone with the special name tag if they get lost!
- Bring noise canceling headphones. It’s loud!
- If you don’t have a stroller, rent one from an outside company like Kingdom Strollers. The ones at Disney World are hard plastic and you can’t lay down in them. Some outside companies even have larger medical strollers! A stroller with a light blanket over it makes for amazing personal space when your loved one has had enough and needs a break!
- If you need it, be sure to ask for the stroller as a wheelchair tag. My son had a seizure in Animal Kingdom and we didn’t have one so I had to carry my 70-pound 8-year old into The Festival of the Lion King. Not so fun. I fixed that the next day at Magic Kingdom! You can also bring your stroller in the line with you while you wait if you have this tag. It really helps if they’re getting overwhelmed and need their own space!
- If you’re able, include an extra day in your trip so you can have a day where you can relax at the resort. Sometimes you need a little downtime!
- Stay at a Disney Resort. This one is huge! If you’re staying on property, there are always several ways to get you back to your resort room, plus you’re never far from your room in case of emergency!
- Know where quiet areas are. There are several spots at each park, so if you’re in need of an escape, have an idea of what rides are great for calming down, or ask a Cast Member where the closest quiet area is.
- If you aren’t interested in the parades/shows, that is a great time to hit the big rides! A lot of people will be watching the parade, so the lines will be shorter!
- Prepare for TSA if you’re flying! If your child hasn’t flown before, TSA has a great video they’ve produced to show what to expect when going through security! There are also fun coloring pages too! If you are nervous about the TSA screening process with children, check out TSA’s website to know exactly what you can and can’t bring.
- USE A TRAVEL AGENCY THAT SPECIALIZES IN DISNEY! It’s tempting to book your own trip. But when you use a travel agent that specializes in Disney, it doesn’t cost you any additional money, but you have someone to solve any problems for you-even when you’re on vacation! They are only a call away!
Heidi Daren is a featured writer for this blog and Travel Agent with Fairy Tale Concierge. To learn more about her and read more of her articles, click here!