My son's speech therapist encouraged me to take him to Disney World when he was three years old. "They have a special assistance card and they welcome children with autism,” she said. “And it will help his language development." Well, that's all the convincing I needed!
Soon, I was watching teary-eyed as my son hugged Pooh and Tigger with the most engaged, connected smile I had seen in months.
If you’ve dreamed about taking your child with autism to Disney World, but thought you or your child couldn’t handle the challenges it can involve, I have one word of advice, “Go!” The look on your child’s face will be worth the effort and money you put into this trip.
When you take advantage of the special accommodations Disney offers to children with autism, you and your child will have a memorable time. Here are some tips for a magical vacation with Mickey Mouse.
Two excellent resources are the annual guide book, Birnbaum's Walt Disney World, and the website, All Ears Net.com. The site includes tips for enjoying Disney with children with autism, special diets, ride reviews, and more.
November (not Thanksgiving) is a great time to visit. The crowds are low, hotel rates are good, and the weather is perfect.
More expensive is not always better--we liked All Stars Movies ($80/night) much more than the Contemporary ($250+/night) for its superior pools, better food court, and overall more fun atmosphere.
Because my son was especially sensitive to noise (he seemed to grow out of this somewhat as he got older), I used to request a quiet room rather than a room by he pool (which plays music you can hear in the room) and used a white noise machine at night.
A free mini refrigerator is available for medication, if needed.
This free card helps a child with autism, who may ecome overwhelmed by long waits or crowds, enjoy Disney attractions. To request one, go with your child to Guest Services located inside the entrance of the park.
Bring a doctor's note indicating that your child has autism (although I have never been asked to present it).
This card will allow you use the Fast Pass Return line or alternate entrance for attractions (like at Haunted Mansion) and use your child's stroller as a wheel chair, so you can wheel it right up to the rides.
Typically, you'll wait only a few minutes to board rides using the card. It will also give you preferential seating at shows, if you need it (and your child will let you watch the show!)
Just a personal note: we don't use it for repeat rides. I feel it's really a privilege, and we don't want to abuse it. So although the GAC does help us get on rides (like Soaring at EPCOT) without a very long wait, we only use it one time for each ride, just to be fair.
If you show your card to the costumed character's handlers, it won't bump you to the front of the line of other kids, but Mickey or Pluto will understand that your child needs extra attention from his Disney pals.
Use a boarding pass holder to carry your GAC because you'll be taking it out a lot.
Given all the walking you'll be doing, it's fortunate that Disney World is one place where no one will look at you funny for having an older child in a stroller or wheelchair. In fact, you'll probably be glad to rest in it a couple of times. So I say: yes, definitely.
The park rental strollers are hard and low to the ground, like our Zoo rental strollers, but in a pinch, they're better than nothing. I think the wheelchairs are better for older children.
Children with autism may prefer the more sedate and predictable rides, or even the monorail (my son's favorite!) My son likes most Magic Kingdom attractions, but his favorites are the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, It's A Small World, and Minnie's Country House.
At Epcot, my son is enchanted by the garden railway trains in Germany, and he also likes the slow-moving boat rides in Mexico and Norway, as well as "The Land" boat ride and Imagination with Figment. But as he got older, he loved the exciting rides, too.
Whenever possible, leave the parks no later than dinner time. The nightly parades and fireworks, while thrilling, are painfully loud, and the crowds become much more cranky and pushy. Children are crying; parents are yelling; it's just not as much fun after dark.
When you're really tired, taking a taxi back to the hotel instead of the free but crowded bus is well worth the $10-$15.
If your child is still raring to go, the hotel pool is nice wind-down option, or stroll around All-Stars to see the larger than life Toy Story characters.
Legal disclaimer: The tools and recommendations on this website are not intended to replace the information, training, and support you may receive from qualified medical and therapeutic professionals. It is the parent's responsibility to verify the accuracy of recommendations and information before implementing changes that may impact the parent's child.