Visiting Disneyland with a Special Needs Child!

Sep 15, 2015
I'm sure you remember our trip to LA this summer!  Among the highlights were trips to both Disney's California Adventure and Disneyland.  It was beyond amazing, and the kids still ask (almost daily) if we are heading back soon.  If you are planning on taking that trip with a child who has special needs, I have some tips!

If you have been following me for a while, you know that my son has Autism.  He is a pretty sweet and special guy, but sometimes he has challenges that don't generally bother typically developing kids.  Disney has taken some really amazing steps to ensure that your trip is as smooth as possible.  One of the awesome things that they have is this guide to every ride in the park.  It lets you know, for example, that The Enchanted Tiki Room (home of my fave Dole Whip) has flashing lights and periods of darkness.  This is handy if you have someone in your party with specific sensory issues.

That same guide also gives you a step-by-step as to what to expect when you arrive at the park.  They give suggestions about how to prepare your child for the experience.  For us we downloaded the free IPad app for Disneyland and California Adventure.  It is a very interactive simple map about the different attractions and rides in the parks.  My kids love it!  Some other suggestions include watching videos and creating a picture schedule about the day in the park.  I know lots of parents like us rely on picture schedules, so that seemed like an awesome idea!  Here's an outtake from the app...

Another way to prepare is to bring some familiar objects and food into the park.  Disney is so great about allowing outside food and drink into the park.  If your little guy will only eat one thing, or has specific allergy requirements, you can bring in what you need!  I always bring a reusable water bottle like the one in the link.

It can get really hot. and who wants to buy drinks all day?  Let's face it. I love Disney but feeding my kids soda all day is NOT HAPPENING.

The first thing that you need to do when you enter the park is visit City Hall on Main Street.  There, you can get your stroller or wheelchair tagged.  This is essential if your little one needs to have it accessible near the rides.  After you get your tag, a very helpful cast member will set you up with  Disability Access Service (DAS).  This wonderful stranger will set you up with a card to gain the type of access that you will need.  For instance, some people need to use the handicapped accessible entrances. The cast member will pinpoint the entrances for you on the map, and they will tell you how to use the card. Gone are the days where an access card meant you could just go on any ride at any time.  Now you must present the card at the proper entrance.  They then issue a return time (much like a fastpass), and you return at the specified time.  You are waiting in line, just not "in line".  We were very lucky, and it wasn't busy.  That meant that we were able to jump right on some of our favorites, like Thunder Mountain.  Overall, we found it to be a very fair and efficient system.

Another thing that Disney does VERY well are companion restrooms.  They have many that are clearly marked throughout the park.  Near the end of Main Street (by the corn dog vendor) they have a great baby care station with small toilets, changing areas and areas for nursing.  This isn't widely known by newcomers and is really great for small children.

I've said it before and I will say it again-GO!  If you have the resources, Disney makes it as easy as they possibly can for everyone to enjoy the magic.  If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!

If you haven't already checked out my tips for visiting California Adventure, you can find them here!


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