Special Needs At Disney: A How To

I've been going to Walt Disney World my whole life. Even more so in my adult years, as I was able to get myself an annual pass to the parks. Up until a few years ago, I never considered what it would be like to navigate the parks as a "special needs" mom. But, low and behold, that's where I am nowadays.
How to tips for guiding through Walt Disney World with special needs

I first realized I needed help in this area when Miss Quirky was 5 years old. We had been going to Disney for 5 years at this point, and had skipped out on so many rides because she couldn't handle the long lines. When we tried certain ones, like Soarin', that always had long lines, it would end in meltdowns and disappointment. This is a reality that I just accepted. We would never experience Disney the way others did.

How to tips for guiding through Walt Disney World with special needs

At least, I accepted it until I knew better. I heard about this thing called the "Disability Access Service" card, so I did some research. Disney finally was offering help for those with cognitive disabilities! This was so exciting to me and my little girl!

On our next visit, we picked up our "DAS" and headed to Soarin'! FINALLY my little girl was able to experience this incredible ride! Since that moment, we have never had another meltdown from rides at Disney and I am so grateful for it. So, here are some tips I have learned in my years attending Disney with special needs in mind..

First off, you'll want to head straight to Guest Services when you arrive. Tell them that you need a Disability Access Service card or a "DAS" (they'll know what you mean). They ask a few questions about what exactly you need assistance with. Remember that no one is allowed to ask you what you or your child's disability is. This is something I have only had to deal with once, and I immediately reported the incident to management. Basically, they want to properly fit you with the right assistance. So, I always tell them that my daughter has cognitive disabilities and we are unable to stand in lines for long periods of time. That pretty much sums up our needs to them, and we move on to getting the pass.

Next, if you use a stroller a lot for you special needs child (I certainly do at Disney), you can get a sticker that is "stroller=wheelchair". That way, you can bring the stroller on with you to certain attractions and rides, just as you do with a wheelchair. When Miss Quirky is having an extra emotional day, our stroller provides her with a safe zone to stay calm and it becomes of great assistance when we go to shows at Disney.

How to tips for guiding through Walt Disney World with special needsThe way that the DAS works, is that you will go to your desired ride and ask for a return time. So, say the ride has a 40 minute wait, you will get a return time for 30 minutes later. That way you can go sit somewhere cool, have a drink, watch a show, or whatever you'd like to do, in that time that you have to wait (rather than standing in a line). You can come back anytime after that 30 minutes. So if your child decides they want to go across the park to meet Cinderella--that's fine! Come back in an hour! Your DAS spot will be waiting for you!

If you don't already have them, grab your child a pair of noise-reducing headphones. These can be a lifesaver for those with auditory sensitivities. All the random fireworks going off in the parks or even the expected noises can be overwhelming!

How to tips for guiding through Walt Disney World with special needsIf your little one is small enough to wear them---then wear, wear, wear! I cannot tell you how many times I have been able to avoid a full meltdown with Miss Spunky by just putting her up on me. Wearing provides comfort, compression, a safe space, the calm of your heartbeat & voice, and plenty of mommy kisses. Find a carrier that you can wear comfortably for hours, and bring it.

Remember that each and every cast member should be accommodating to you and your child, and if anyone treats you with any disrespect, immediately report it to Guest Services. Typically, I don't get attitude from cast members, but it can happen. Your child should have as much fun at Disney World as anyone else!

Hope this helps!


-A Geeky Ginger-


Do you have any extra tips for heading to the parks with special needs? Post them in the comments!

13 comments

  1. This is very helpful! I'm going to share because it's so important for parents of special needs kids to know what options are available. Disney vacations can be overwhelming, but they usually have great customer service which can really make/break a trip with kids.

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  2. This is an awesome post, great tips! I didn't know that Disney had this program, kiddos to them for helping out family with special needs members! I totally agree with the headphones, I know that Disney is incredibly loud to me couldn't imagine what it must be like for someone with extra sensitive hearing. Yes, wear all the babies!!! I totally agree that wearing your child is the best for them and you. I love wearing my daughter and sometimes she needs the extra snuggles and mommy kisses.

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  3. Can't wait to go to Disneyland with my kid someday!

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  4. That is really thoughtful for Disney to have that program. Those lines can suck the life out of you. I think it's a great idea and you can make the day a little more enjoyable.

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  5. I'm so glad Disney has made these accommodations. It truly is the Happiest Place on Earth.

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  6. These are great tips. I have a sister with special needs and will be passing these tips along for the next time they visit Disney World.

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  7. Love these tips! I'm so glad it's available for those who need it!

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  8. This is great to know! My best friend's daughter has a cognitive disability and meltdowns come quickly for her - especially in highly-stimulating environments such as Disney. They are big Disney visitors but I have never heard her mention this. I will ask tomorrow. Thanks for sharing! - Amy

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  9. I am going to pass this along to my friend who has a special needs daughter. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Special Needs passes are so important. those kids can truly be the end of a good day when a meltdown occurs. Legoland also has a great "Hero Pass" brings you right to the front. No coming back at certain times like Disney's newer policy

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  11. Mothers are amazing and mother with children that have special needs are another kind of amazing. It takes a toll because you have to learn to adjust to their needs. You Rock!!

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  12. What an informative post! You have so many useful tips. I love Disney even more now that I know how accommodating they are to those with special needs!❤️

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  13. It is great that Disney is so helpful with disabilities! I had no idea <3 Great post! Even though I don't have a special needs child, I was still roped in to reading every last word!

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