This past week our family visited Disney world! We had a good time, but experienced some rough spots with our son Joshua who has ADHD and developmental disability. We knew he would struggle with the waiting in lines, but what we didn’t expect was that he would struggle with every part of Disney. When he rode the very first ride in Epcot the first day, which happened to be the Nemo ride, he flipped out and didn’t stop pretty much the whole week. He was terrified of the dark and all the noises and people that are at Disney. I knew he had sensory issues but he has never freaked out on us like he did. It got to the point where he bit my husband and drew blood. He was terrified and having a panic attack. So, let me tell you what Disney offers for special kids and how we handled Joshua.
Disney offers what is called a Disability Access Services pass or DAS. You simply go to guest services at any park and they will take a picture of your special child and assign a DAS to that child’s Disney pass, which you scan at each ride.You do not need to provide an proof of your child’s disability. What this allows you to do is when you approach a ride and the stand bye wait time is, for example 30 min, you will be given a time in 30 minutes to return and you can then get into the Fastpass line and ride very quickly. So, even though Joshua refused to ride anything pretty much after that first incident, we still got his card scanned and used his DAS to get shorter wait times for the rides that had long wait times for the rest of us.
The other thing Disney has for everyone is the Fastpass. You may choose three rides to get a fastpass for per day. So, we chose three popular rides and signed up for fastpasses, which is when you are assigned an hour window to come and ride the ride in a shorter line. After you use all three fastpasses you have signed up for, you may get an additional fastpass while in the park. You can sign up for fastpasses 30 days in advance online. I highly recommend you do so.
So, we would have our fastpasses and then find a ride we wanted to ride with a longer wait and get a DAS for that ride, then find a ride that had a short wait time and ride that while waiting for our time for DAS or fastpass times. This meant we didn’t have to wait more than 20 min for any ride we rode all week and we rode all the major rides. We also got there as soon as the parks opened each day. I had not done this before but it was soooo worth it.
Disney also allowed us to use our stroller as a wheelchair for Joshua, since he refused to walk anywhere. So, we were allowed to keep our stroller with us even while waiting in lines. That was a lifesaver! Disney also offers noise cancelling headphones and ear plugs for free at guest services. We also took advantage of that and it helped Joshua.
All the cast members were really wonderful in helping us out when Joshua was really having a rough time. They offered us free ice cream, stickers and even allowed us to not have to wait at all on one ride when it had a two hour wait. You just have to ask for what you need and they will provide it if they are able. Disney was fabulous for accommodating us.
So, if you have a special needs kiddo and wonder if you should visit Disney here are my recommendations.
- If your child has sensory issues expect that Disney will challenge that, immensely. Take necessary precautions, such as ear plugs or sunglasses to help you. And if you only have a child with sensory issues and no other children, I would think long and hard before going to Disney. It may go badly and make your trip miserable.
- You can take a child with special needs to Disney and Disney will go above and beyond to give you whatever you need, don’t be afraid to ask.
- Try to keep your child’s routine as normal as possible. Keep them on their meds just as they are at home, and keep lots of snacks and water to make sure kids are fed on a regular schedule.
- Take naps and breaks. Don’t push too hard, your child won’t have fun and neither will you. When your child is done, leave.
- Don’t go consecutive days to Disney. We were there for five days straight and I wouldn’t do that again. With young kids or special kids, you need break days in between park days.
Overall, we had a great time and we will do Disney again, in a few years. Hopefully Josh will be at a different developmental place at that time, but if not, we know how to handle it better now.