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3 Things to Know Before You Head to Disney With Your Child With a Disability

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My family went to Disney World last year with our son Nicholas, who has a disability. When I was planning for my vacation, I wish I had known these three things that could have made my experience a little bit better.

1. Ask

Even if you didn’t go to Sunday school with your mom and dad, you may have heard someone say the partial bible scripture, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find.” Well if you are headed to Disney World, the park does offer accommodations for individuals with disabilities, but you gotta ask. it is not going to be handed to ya. You have to often seek out solutions for your loved one with disabilities, and that means you may have to stand in a line for a hostess or host who can point you to a spot that will help you out.

My son Nick is diagnosed with autism. He often has a tough time with long lines. This is really with anything. He hates waiting in long lines at the supermarket, church, or an out or event. Many parents with kids on the autism spectrum understand when I say this isn’t him being impatient, but rather a sensory thing. If we are in a line too long, I have to leave the area or he will have a meltdown because of the overwhelming wait, the overwhelming crowd, or both. One time he even yelled to me, “I can’t breathe!”

Part of it, I notice, is constraints of movement. If he has to sit or stand still for a long time, he will literally break out in a jumping and wiggle dance just to keep from standing or sitting too long. One behaviorist at his school said to me sometimes kids on the autism spectrum feel sitting still for long periods of time is physically painful. They have to move. Nick has gotten better over time, but he is not over it by any means.

So if this is your kid — or your child is in a wheelchair or perhaps has another disability, here’s your first move. On your first day in any of the parks go to Guest Relations. Our first park on our vacation was Disney’s Magic Kingdom. There, you will need to head to City Hall. In my case, I let one of the Disney hosts know my son is diagnosed with autism and really has a tough time standing in long lines. I had a note from his doctor as a backup. The host got to see it, as soon as I stood in a lengthy line, Nick was loudly asking me how long we had to stand in line. The host saw the need before I got to the desk.

At guest relations they will give you an electronic link to your electronic ticket or “magic band.” (I will get to magic bands in just a minute.) This will allow you to have “disability access accommodations” for 30 days. The link will allow you to go to any ride or stage show and arrange a time to return to ride that ride — even if the wait time is really long. Some waits for rides like the popular Avatar Pandora ride are more than 120 minutes on any given day. They will give you a time to walk around — do something else and come back at a coordinated time slot.

However, you can only set up one of these “disability access” rides at a time.

Also, for those who may need american sign language interpreters, you can ask for show times when interpreters will be at a show so your child or loved one can enjoy the show. I was told interpreters are coordinated at all Disney Parks but there are a limited number. So I would arrange this before arriving.

2. Magic Bands make things easy but be warned.

The Disney Magic Bands are great. You can link your credit card or debit card to one band, a select few or all the bands in your party. This means you can leave your wallet locked in a safe in your room while you have fun at any Disney World park and buy what you want when needed with the magic band as well as use it for fast pass rides. One good security measure with purchases though is you have to put in a four digit code you specifically select for every purchase during the time of your stay. One host told me beware of letting kids know the code. She told me a story of a 4-year-old who charged up to $1000 on their parent’s credit card that way. Needless to say, Nick did not know the code.

3. Be prepared to walk miles and pack patience. 

Nearly every day of the week the three of us walked between seven and nine miles a day.  If your loved one has a tough time walking long distances, you can rent a stroller or electronic scooter if you don’t have one. Bringing your own, however, can save you money. My advice, however, is check ahead.

Crowds are also huge. Even if it’s off season, I’m told Disney has a lot of people. Memorial Day weekend was packed and lines were very long. Even when you have a fast pass, dining reservations, a bus/shuttle time or arranged just about anything at a set time, there will be delays. So if you are a stickler for time, learn to use yoga breathing techniques and slow down. Rarely does everything start exactly on time. Restaurants generally give you a 20 minute grace period if you are late. And rides give you an hour window from the time of your appointment. Calling ahead to a restaurant can buy you time, but not indefinitely. If you miss your window for a ride, you’re generally out of luck.

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A version of this story originally appeared on Momma 911. You can also watch the video here.

Getty image by OpThailand

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