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An Autism-Friendly Disney Vacation, within Reach

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Autism-Friendly Disney Vacation

It’s no secret, Disney World really is the most magical place on Earth. For families with kiddos with autism, it could also be a nightmare. It’s very people-y, crowded, loud, hot, and has lots of visual lights and shows, that may be the perfect combination to send any kiddo (let’s face it, adult too), into sensory overload. While the idea of a child having a tantrum during their Disney park day isn’t new by any means, this could be devastating for families with guests with disabilities, and could certainly be a vacation-ruiner, which overall sounds like a big waste of money, and effort. 

What you may not know, is that Disney puts forth a pretty reasonable effort to accommodate guests with disabilities, most notably, with its Disability Access Service (DAS) pass. The purpose of the service is for visiting guests who may have difficulty tolerating lines or extended wait times, because of their disability. The DAS pass is comparable to the current Genie+/LL systems, but at no extra cost to the family. It allows everyone in your travel party (including the guest who qualifies for the DAS pass) to select a return time for the ride/attraction you’d like, then you would ‘wait’ virtually, while enjoying other aspects of the park.

The DAS Pass is available for pre-registration (you can register online before your vacation),
or, you can register upon arrival to the park, at guest services. If pre-registering online before your vacation, you are required to meet (virtually) with a cast member, with the person registering for the pass present in the video call. Contrary to popular belief (and this may put your mind at ease), Disney does not currently require formal paperwork or even require you to disclose a diagnosis to qualify for the DAS pass. However, you do need to briefly explain why and how the disability impacts the person’s ability to tolerate waiting. 
 

Cute girls and their parents visiting amusement park

In addition to the DAS pass, qualifying families with kiddos who may still require a stroller can also register their stroller as a wheelchair (deeming it medically necessity, meaning, your kiddo could remain in the stroller for the entirety of a queue, only getting out of said stroller to board the ride, and the stroller would be waiting for you once you got off the ride, to put your kiddo directly back into it. I find this tip particularly helpful for families with kiddos who may engage in bolting behavior or have difficulty walking with parents with just your basic hand hold. 

Disney does not currently label any of their locations as ‘sensory friendly’, but does provide a list of locations throughout their 4 theme parks that they’ve labeled as ‘break spaces’. You can find a comprehensive list in Disney’s ‘Guide for guests with cognitive disabilities’, or, ask a cast member for assistance. Of note, I think it’s really important to prepare you for reality here, Disney is ALWAYS crowded, even if you’re planning to visit during a low-crowd time of year, you should still expect to wait at times (for transportation, to enter the park, etc.), and have a plan for when to rest / take breaks built into your schedule. 

 

A handsome boy blonde child with a curly hairstyle together with his mother came to the amusement park to have fun and ride on the carousels and swings.

I’ve seen some really awesome safety tips for your Disney vacation that I’d be remiss if I didn’t share here, even if it seems a bit scary to think about. Taking a family picture first thing in the morning when you arrive is logistically a good idea (the Florida humidity may have you not looking your best by the afternoon-time), but also for safety purposes, in the event you needed a visual of your kiddos and what they are wearing that day, you’d already have a picture in your camera roll ready to go.

Disney also provides free pins that are meant for celebrating things like birthdays, anniversaries, first visits, etc. If your kiddo will tolerate wearing one of these pins, putting your parent information (names, phone numbers, etc.), that could also be beneficial in the event you were to get separated from your kiddo during the day at any time.
I’ve also seen some pretty cool temporary tattoo ideas (again, no judgment here- you could try a sharpie and draw directly on skin too, but that Florida weather may make it difficult to read at some point!).
 

Little adorable girl outdoor in the park

What else can you do to prepare your kiddos and family for a Disney Vacation? First, if you haven’t already, start watching some Disney movies! If you’re not sure already, find out what your kiddos like! That will help you narrow down which rides/attractions/shows/characters are going to be important to get to while you’re there (another pro tip in general, you’ll never be able to do it all in one vacation, and believe me I’ve tried).

A platform I recommend exploring before you go for real, up to date, in depth views of ALL the Disney World/Land things you’re interested in is YOUTUBE. We are lucky to live in a time where there are REAL videos of almost everything you can think of in Disney world (rides, shows, attractions, scenery, transportation systems, character meet n greets). Start watching them! Does your kiddo love Winnie the Pooh? There’s a POV video on youtube of the Winnie the Pooh ride, and also the Winnie the Pooh Meet n greet just outside of it.

Familiarizing your kiddos with what things will look like and what to expect is going to be CRUCIAL in them being successful there (also will be helpful for you too, mom!). Want to know what the crowds look like during the fireworks? Do a quick search on youtube (spoiler alert, it’s crazy crowded, I’d recommend steering clear of Main St.). Does your kiddo love Ratatouille, but you’re afraid they won’t like the 3D glasses or the jerkiness of the ride? Check it out on youtube to see what it’s like without the glasses. 
 

 

Portrait of happy father and son in amusement park eating ice cream and enjoying bonding time together

You’re also going to want to familiarize yourself with the My Disney Experience App when you’re doing your planning. This will give you up to date info on park hours, times that attractions are open, which characters are out until what time, wait times for rides, and most importantly, a lay out of all the park maps. The app has everything you need to be successful on a Disney park day (this is also where you’d make your DAS Pass selections!). The earlier you download it and check it out, the more familiar you’ll be with it when you need it in the parks. 

What do you think, did I convince you yet? This vacation doesn’t need to be super complicated for you, and, when it comes down to it- it’s supposed to be fun! As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Special Education Teacher, but more importantly as a particularly proud autism aunt, making your Disney trip successful for you and your family is really important to me, and I’m confident we can make it happen! I’m really interested in showing ALL families how accessible, and magical a Disney vacation can be, and I would love to be a part of helping you get there. 

By Kathleen Moran M.Ed, BCBA, LABA, Certified Autism Travel Professional

By Kathleen Moran M.Ed, BCBA, LABA, Certified Autism Travel Professional

Instagram: @Kmorantravelplans
Facebook: KMoran Travel Plans
Email: Kathleenmoran@smartmomstravelagents.com
Language: English

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1 Comment

  1. Krystal Murphy says:

    This article is so incredibly helpful! The stroller and temporary tattoo tips are especially helpful. Thank you, Kathleen.

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