As I have walked around the parks, I have seen some of Disney’s most special kiddos walking around having the time of their life. These kids range in disabilities from autism, Downs syndrome, to disabilities you many not even notice. I kept thinking, how we as a company can help these folks. My background is in special education. I fell in love with this population in high school when I helped out in the “special ed class” as it was called back then. I went to college, got a couple degrees in education, one in special education and continued to teach in four states with kids from a variety of disabilities. I left teaching when my first daughter was born as my husband was gone a lot as a pilot in the Air Force. I have kept up with my love for these kids by teaching Sunday school to a group that ranges from 2-10 on any given Sunday.
We have read in reviews of parents with children who have disabilities and all over the message boards where kids have made steps forward, even leaps such as first words in Disney and how the Disney cast members have that level of customer service to really help a family with a special child. So our goal is how can we help others get there? Below I have given some points on what to consider when planning a trip to Disney World with a child with disabilities. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have. I would love to see more of these special kiddos in the parks.
1. Evaluate the pros and cons to the resort properties you are looking at. Keep in mind you will want to come back mid-day for a break.
Do your research on properties or book with someone that can answer the questions you have. At “Ears” we understand the economical toll a child with a disability has on the family’s finances at times. We are acutely aware of this when helping plan a trip for someone. For every person that comes to us for pricing, regardless of their travelling party’s needs, we offer multiple pricing options after speaking with them on their party’s specific needs and we give them information on each option. In addition, for parties travelling with children with special needs, we also give information on how each resort may effect their child. For example, the value resorts are a great way to save money and many children with autism like the larger than life iconic figures displayed around the property but the bus transportation can be an issue. So we like to tell them these things. We always notate with the hotel what a child’s needs are and request a room location that fits their needs but we cannot guarantee that location. So if you are driving in or renting a car, the value may be a good option. The hotels that have monorail transportation or boat launches are great as well because it makes the much needed and suggested mid-day break easier for you but the cost can be a factor so we look into what is better for you. This is our mission as a business, no two families are alike, each family’s vacation is their vacation and we assist you with that acutely in mind throughout the process. In addition, our policy for every client that books with us is we keep checking prices to make sure the price doesn’t go down and if a fare code comes out we can apply, we do it. This helps in keeping the price down.
2. Make dining reservations ahead of time and notate all dietary needs. Disney will accommodate you if they know ahead of time.
Disney is great about noting dietary needs on dining reservations. We can even do it when we make them online for our clients. These requests go to the restaurants themselves 72 hours prior to the reservations so they have time to prepare for an alternate meal if need be. I have been in restaurants in Epcot where the Chef came out to a table where there was a severe allergy to assure them he had prepared something safe for them. Yet another way Disney accommodates the individual so well.
3. Plan where you will be each day, each night and go over this with the family before you leave, when you get there, and before you leave the room every day.
For our clients who have kids with special needs, in addition to all that is included in our final packet for every guest we book; the maps, itinerary guidelines, dining reservations, our tips and tricks, and our kid expert’s tips and tricks, we also include note cards on a ring for the child with the timeline of events catered to them. This will have pictures of rides, the parks they are going to, maybe a character greeting, and as they do these activities, they can check them off or mark them with a sticker. The combination of our prepared itineraries, the dining all set for them with any special dietary needs their child may need already notated to Disney, and the maps they can study as a family together beforehand, all make the anxiety a little less. We even give them a little notebook to have handy if they need something to keep the child pre-occupied while they are waiting for something.
We direct our clients to our YouTube account and our photo album to show their family what things look like before they go. They will also get the note cards to hold onto as a reminder. This seems to make the unknown a little less uncertain. There seems to be a video of almost every ride on Youtube. Make sure to preview first to ensure it is appropriate for younger ones.
5. If your child has sensory issues consider an iPod, mp3 player, or cd player with their favorite music, noise cancelation headphones, or at least ear plugs to help reduce some of the outside noises.
There are all sorts of smells and sounds you and I may not realize but a child sensitive to these things can become very uncomfortable with. The clanging of the trolley, the music and fireworks of the stage show at the castle, and the smell of chocolate from the candy store are just examples on Main Street USA. If you can knock out some of those sounds, the child can take in the things they really want to enjoy.
6. Know how to use the Guest Assistance card, where to get it in each park, and how to make it work best for you.
This is a tool Disney has given to families with children or persons in their travelling party that have disabilities you may not see. Standing in line with people in close proximity to you is something many kids with special needs simply cannot handle for long and for that reason, Disney has come up with this option to help make their trip magical. Be informed on it or book with someone that is. It is a simple system and not something to be stressed about. We encourage our clients to text us if they are having a problem at the park acquiring a Guest Assistance card for a child who needs it. We have yet to have someone need to text us for this reason but they know they can.
7. Don’t try to do it all
It is important to take that break and to not push it. You may be having a great day so you think, “why not, let’s watch the fireworks from the park.” If you have thought the fireworks were going to be an issue, don’t push it. There are plenty of places to watch them far away from the crowds. For the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks; the beach of the Polynesian and the Ferry Dock at the Ticket and Transportation Center both are great unobstructed views of the fireworks where you can hear the music as they pipe it in and you do not have the crowds, before, during, and after to deal with.
Some kids do not do well with the parades and it is not the parade itself, it is the chaos of the crowds. One of our research families with a child who has sensory issues found being at the end of the parade worked well for them as the biggest crowds tend to congregate at the beginning and cause a bottleneck after it passes. We have also mentioned other areas to our clients that seem to work well depending on the child’s specific needs.
Pick the must dos and everything else is a small victory if you get it done. You will be amazed at how much you will get done but this way you don’t feel like you are on a marathon trip. That can put a lot of stress on any family.
Discover the magic of Walt Disney World® Resorts and parks on a Walt Disney World® family vacation, and share the joy of Mickey Mouse and company with your kids. Let Ears of Experience plan the perfect Disney trip for you and your loved ones. Contact us today at 1-877-80MOUSE. We look forward to sending you on the magical vacation of a lifetime.