Accessible Disney World: Doing Disney with Special Needs Kiddos
As far as vacation destinations go, Disney World is very accessible for kiddos with special needs. From special passes to low-key rest areas, Disney World has put some time and effort into improving the Disney experience for kids with cognitive disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
If you’ll be doing Disney with a kiddo who has special needs, the following info can help you prepare. Learn how to navigate a new, unfamiliar, exciting, and busy place while still managing the daily wants, needs, and expectations of each person in your party.
Please note, the following information is geared towards families visiting Disney World with a special needs kiddo. But much of the info provided would also apply to the Disney World experience of adults with cognitive disabilities and people of all ages with physical disabilities.
Inspired by quotes from Disney movies—the following tips will help you make the most of your Disney World magic!
“No one saying do this, no one saying be there”—Build some unstructured time into your day.
Structure your days so your kiddo doesn’t get overstimulated and doesn’t feel rushed or pushed to do things. For example, when you arrive at your hotel or vacation rental, spend some time wandering around. Exploring, getting the lay of the land and locating the bathrooms will help kiddos feel comfortable. When you’re visiting the theme parks, budget some time to just sit and relax or wander aimlessly.
“Be our guest”—Make your dining plans and reservations in advance.
Disney World makes it easy to find and research the best food options for your family. You can filter dining options by cuisine and service type and make reservations online.
If your little one has special dietary needs, you’ll find that many dining facilities in the park can accommodate most allergies, intolerances, and other dietary restrictions. And don’t forget, guests with food allergies or intolerances can bring food into the parks. For more info about Disney World food options for allergies, check out AllergyEats Disney World.
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“Remember, you’re the one that can fill the world with sunshine.”—Prepare your little one for all the wonders of Disney World!
With a smile and a song (and little help from the Internet), you can prepare for your Disney vacation by watching videos online. There are dozens of official Disney videos to help you see what the rides and entertainment look like. A quick search on YouTube also reveals hundreds of videos taken by visitors. Another way to help your little one prepare—talk to them about what they can expect. Where will they sleep? What can they expect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What will the crowds and noise be like? If lines and waiting are something your kiddo struggles with, practice ahead of time. Pack headphones, earplugs, sensory toys, or a favorite device into your day bag.
“Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in their enchanted place on top of the forest, a little bear will always be waiting.”—Skip the ticketing line.
Winnie the Pooh might be waiting around, but you don’t have to—buy Disney World tickets online. There will still be lines, but purchase your tickets ahead of time and you can saunter on past the ticketing line. In the park, you can use the My Disney Experience mobile app to check wait times at specific attractions.
“Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities.”—Enjoy some downtime at one of the many Rest Areas located throughout the park.
Naps are a bare necessity, right? We think so! There are Rest Areas located throughout the park where you can rest and relax. These are especially useful if your kiddo is highly sensitive and needs a place to unwind. If your little prince or princess needs some beauty sleep, consider heading over to one of the nearby Disney World resorts. Even if you’re not a guest, you can soak up the air-conditioning in a lobby or find a quiet corner. For more expert tips on where to nap, check out Disney Diva and TripSavvy.
More Disney resources:
- The Disability Access Service(PDF)—a.k.a the DAS card—is a great program for guests with a disability which prevents them from waiting in line.
- The Rider Switch program allows two adults to take turns on a ride, while the other waits with the non-riding guest(s).
- Official Guides for Guests with Disabilities include info about accessible transportation options, where companion restrooms are located, and more. Guides are available for the following theme parks:
- The My Disney Experience mobile app allows users to check wait times at popular attractions. You can also order food from some quick-service restaurants, navigate the park, and more! Available on the App Store and Google Play.
Third-party resources we recommend:
- Autism At The Parks has tons of useful info for guests who are going to visit Orlando’s theme parks with a family member with autism or other developmental disability.
- BabyQuip offers baby and toddler gear rentals of all kinds that make navigating Disney World easier. Nine Quality Providers are on stand-by to deliver gear right to you to make your trip less stressful.
Kathy is a freelance writer, an Independent Quality Provider with BabyQuip and the mother of a very active one-year-old boy. When she’s not changing diapers, developing engaging content for clients, or helping families travel with little ones, she enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, and naps.