Tips For Families Traveling With Special Needs Children

Disney World and Disneyland are wonderful places to go with special needs kids and family members! They provide us with facilities and accommodations that make it possible to have the vacation that we really, really, REALLY need. Our Disney vacations become terrific learning experiences as well as family bonding time. We are grateful that they provide accommodations for travelers with disabilities and special needs.  

Get a GAC or SAP if you need it

Keep your Guest Assistance Card in a clear plastic envelope or badge holder clipped to your belt loop or on a lanyard around your neck, like people use for VIP passes at sporting events. This makes it much easier to show the card to cast members when you need their assistance, and you are less likely to lose it. The envelope also comes in handy for park passes, room cards, and a credit card.   Click here for more information about the GAC.

Tips for Special Needs Kids

  • Kids with autism or sensory processing and language issues may feel more secure in a stroller or wheelchair. The deep pressure of the confinement is relaxing to them.   They can draw or snack in the wheelchair or a large stroller, and large sides may help keep them from grabbing or touching other people or objects.

  • Two small  kids can comfortably share a wheelchair until they are about 5 and 7, if they have outgrown the double strollers and you do not have your own adaptive equipment..   

  • Remember that kids with language impairments and emotional issues may not be able to tell you why they are having a tantrum... a tiny little blister can make them go ballistic. It isn't always just over stimulation!

  • Routines are good with Special Needs kids!   Here is a tip for first time visitors with special needs kids- if this is your first time, don't think of this as a trip of a lifetime which your child will not be able to appreciate because they will get over stimulated. Think of this as a fantastic training opportunity full of repetitive, predictable routines. Many of us find our kids thrive on the routine of the coming and going, and get more oriented with each repeated experience. You may not be able to explain it to them in words ahead of time, but with repeated, predictable exposure they get the idea, and start to look forward to each aspect of the vacation experience.

  • Take a small pen-light flashlight with you and keep it handy.  If you are walking in dark corridors or riding on a dark ride and your child begins to decompensate, shine the light on the floor and have them focus on that.  Don't shine the light on anything except the floor, or the CMs may try to stop you.  If you explain why you are using the flashlight, they almost always understand.

  • Luminescent necklaces or bracelets are good for kids who tend to wander - more easily spotted. Also good for people with low night vision while entering dark rides. You can buy these in party stores, ahead of time, or a the parks at night from vendors.

  • Rent or buy a Child Find unit if you have a child or person who 'elopes' on a regular basis. But don't set it off without warning a CM - they might have a nervous breakdown looking for the 'fire' because the alarm does sound like a small smoke detector.

  • You can get 'dog-tags' from a vending machine at the local Wal-Mart or pet store, put the kids names and your phone number on them, and attach them to clothing. There are larger tags as well that could include more info, such as medical info.  

  • If you are with a person who cannot readily communicate or gets confused easily, wear matching outfits that stand out. Makes it much easier when asking the CMs for help in locating each other when lost.
Click Here for more tips about Helping Hypersensitive Children have Fun At Disney Parks

Make sure you reserve an appropriate room

If you are staying in a Disney resort and need a special room type or location, ask CRO to connect you with the Special Reservations department at (407) 939-7807. The medical necessity requests they write override normal requests made through CRO. They are knowledgeable and great to work with, especially if you have a special needs child and need a wheelchair accessible room with a bathtub (standard handicap rooms have roll-in showers instead). Special requests can state your needs specifically to help you get just the room you need.  For example, you can ask for a ground floor room for medical reasons.  They will do their best to accomodate your request on a first-come first-serve basis.  You can request wheelchair-accessible rooms with roll-in showers, or request a room with a tub.  Make your specific needs known, and they will try to accomodate them.

Keep identification and basic medical information available

Be sure to carry information about your family member's medical conditions and diagnosis with you in case of emergency, including the names and contact information of your doctors. At some theme parks, a doctor's letter is required for special assistance passes. 


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Last revision June 3, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Teri Doolittle, PA, MHP
All rights reserved