Visiting Disneyland with a Special Needs Child!

I'm sure you know, if you have been following me for awhile, that we go and visit our family in California every summer. That gives me the amazing ability to share with our my tips about visiting Disneyland with a special needs child!  Among the highlight of every Los Angeles vacation are trips to both Disney's California Adventure and Disneyland theme parks.  The Disneyland California Parks are 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!  By reading beyond this point, you are agreeing to my updated privacy policy, found here, and my use of commissioned referral links. *this post has been updated

Galaxy's Edge with a child on the autism spectrum
Disneyland with a Special Needs child is possible and FUN!

Many of you may know that my son has Autism  (you can read more about his diagnosis and that journey via the link).  I also have a Masters Degree in special education, which gives me unique insights into how to navigate the unexpected.

Ry 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.

Prepare in Advance:

Download the Park  Cognitive Guide 

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.  It will also allow you to get your fastpasses (or Maxpass which I highly recommend if your child has issues with wait time).  One of

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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.

Get the App!

We downloaded the free app for Disneyland and California Adventure. It will also allow you to get your Genie+, and register for the DAS (Disability Access Service Pass) before you go into the park.  That is a relatively new service, and I have heard some parents describe a very long wait time.  It may be worth waiting until you get into the park if that is the case.  

The app has 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...

screenshot of the disney app

We put the app on his ipad before we left, so that he could familiarize himself with the park, the rides and the characters.  It helped.  He was so excited when he could "match" everything.

Reservations in the app

One of the benefits to Disneyland vs. Disney World is that it is much smaller and there are fewer people.  That said, you can make reservations for dining with characters, or at a quieter venue.  We always take a LONG break and sit down for lunch in a quiet place.  It gives us all a chance to recharge.

Mobile Food Ordering

Wait times can be challenging for any child.  Those kiddos like mine really suffer.  One of the best things for families like mine is the mobile food ordering option.  I love Dole Whip, but that line isn't good for our family.  The last time we went, I was able to order, and get my whip within about two minutes of ordering.  The line was long, and I just bypassed it!  The original Dole Whip location (at the enchanted Tiki Room is mobile order only).

If you want to read more about my favorite Disney foods, click here!

Bring familiar objects and food into the park.

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 this reusable water bottle.

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.

mesmerized by the magic at disneyland california
We are all captivated by the magic of Disneyland, California.

Get your Disability Access Service Pass

Lots of parents worry about what to say to get a DAS pass, but don't.  If your child needs it, and they qualify, they will get it.  You do not need a doctors note.  You simply answer some questions about what they need/can't do.

 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 your party on the app to gain the type of access that you will need. If you are a non app user (or have technical issues, head to a plaid wearing castmember at any green umbrella in the park.   

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 app. Gone are the days where an access card meant you could just go on any ride at any time. Now you open the app, look for the DAS option (hit the three bars on the right), and scroll down until you find the ride that you want.   Then, after waiting the amount of time it tells you, you must present the bar code of the person needing assistance at the proper place (usually the lightning lane).  You are waiting in line, just not "in line".   Overall, we found it to be a very fair and efficient system.

Find the Companion Restrooms.

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 (and those needing extra help).

Here are my tips in a nutshell:

list for visting disneyland with a child on the autism spectrum
A note about new attractions at Disneyland and the DAS pass.  I would recommend avoiding it with children with sensory needs, or issues with wait times, until they do away with the boarding groups.  We went about two months after it opened, and they had done away with the boarding groups.  It was still extremely crowded, and would be challenging for those with sensory differences.  That said, the DAS pass worked well, and we were able to avoid the long line.  You can read about my full review of visiting Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland with a child on the autism spectrum on Traveling Mom!

Time for a flashback photo!

disneyland when my kids were so little
It's blurry because this was in 2015, look at my babies!

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!

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If you would like to see some really cute Disney clothing collaborations, click here!

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