Going to Disney is a big deal even if you do not have a special needs child. It isn’t cheap, but in some cases it is a better value or as expensive as other vacations when you factor everything in. So you want to make sure it’s worth it. Travelingwith Autism may seem like a challenging task. However the vacation can be successful and fun as long as a few strategies are planned out ahead of time. And a little pixie dust doesn’t hurt either.
One of your first stops in the Magic Kingdom should be to “City Hall” on Main Street. Which is to the left once you enter the park. Here you can get a DAS card or(Disability Assistance Card). This is basically a fast pass for the person plus their party. If there is a 20 minute wait or less you will enter through the fast pass return. If it is longer you will be given a time to return. Cast members will set up your first one right at City Hall. This is designed to work with the My Magic Plus system which allowed you to pick 3 other fast passes (so you will start with 4). Cast members from Disney do not need “proof of disability”, but the child needs to be present. However, bringing a doctor’s note, IEP coversheet with disability or other identification may be needed if the cast member is in training and a manager is not around. They will photo the child and the DAS info will be attached to the child’s magic band.
Another tip is to make your restaurant reservations as far in advance as possible. (Depending on the package it is 6-7 months). This is an especially important aspect when dealing with food allergies and specific diets. Disney Chefs are very accommodating and can make almost anything with the proper notice. The week of the trip a phone call should be made to confirm everything. When dining the chef will come out to the table to go over the menu and take requests. This also cuts down on wait time. All locations that serve food have informational packets with the ingredients used in the food sold.
What may seem like an obvious tip is to travel when the parks have lower attendence. The parks are very over stimulating for everyone. Plan your trip when the parks are less crowded and it cuts down on wait times everywhere, crowd noise and unexpected bumping into other people. Disney is typically lighter in attendance the week before Labor Day through October 1st, late November through December before winter break, and again the second week of January through the first week of February
Another important tip to have a less stressful trip is to stay in a Walt Disney World resort itself. This saves on time commuting to the parks, helps cut down on transitions and the waiting aspect. Walt Disney World offers free transportation to all its parks through bus, ferry and monorail. They will also pick you up and take you back to the airport, handle your luggage and make a very seamless more hands free trip.
Life is easier when you have a map to follow. Maps are available at the entrance of every park, at guest relations, and at the Disney Resorts. Not only is this useful for the child to have something to hold and look at while walking the parks. For children who are visual, this can cut down the anxiety of the unknown because they have a map to follow. It can serve as tool for creating social stories also.
You should also consider to plan out a few social stories before you even leave, for your trip. Topics should be what to expect for traveling, what to expect in the parks, and what to expect from your child. A few general stories will go a long way if you are utilizing this tool already, and if not here is a perfect time to start.
The most important tip is to be open to positive change and be flexible. Flexibility for all involved is important for success. Plan on taking a lot of breaks, and to not be in the park all day. Consider investing in park hoppers, so you can switch parks if needed.
Disney is a “place where dreams come true.” and parents have reported a variety of improvements in their children after a trip to Disney World. Sometimes its the child being more engaged,more patient, and even drinking out of cup when previously not being consistently successful. So be open to the magic.