Special Needs at Disney World

Bright Eyes and Curly Girly with CinderellaWe are in the middle  (literally) of a trip to Disney World.  It truly is a magical place for kids of all ages (that would most definitely include yours truly).  However, like any good thing, it can quickly become a bad thing if not handled properly.  A corollary is that too much of a good thing, is no longer a good thing.  Here is some advice on how to keep the special times special for everyone and to maximize the great things the children will enjoy.


1) Establish your home base

Beautiful excels in this department so I really do not have a lot of personal experience to add here, but I can tell you what I have observed by watching her, and what helps.

First, pick a place that will have a place for everyone.  There are too many of us for a hotel to qualify.  Consequently, we rent an apartment or, as in this last trip, a home.  Literally, our home base, is a home.  This provides a comfortable landing spot for everyone in the family.  The irony is that it was cheaper than a single hotel room ($125 a night).

Secondly, settle them in.  Show them around.  Where are they going to sleep, eat, bath, use the restroom?  Where are you going to be if they need you?  Where is the food going to be when they are hungry (you still need to make sure you control what they eat, but they need to know there is food)?

The first night in the house, Curly Girly opened the refrigerator and commented that they didn’t keep much food in the house.  You have to love that.

2) Set Expectations

We have 4 firstborns in our little pack.  They all want to know the plan and become agitated when there is any kind of variance.  I am sixth born, so for me, “winging it” is second nature.  That is a conflict waiting to happen.  To avoid that, prepare your children before you leave.  It is too late once you get there because they will be seeing things to thrill them before they even get to the park.  Even the street signs on the way in are “Disney Special.”  I always tell the children  that if they have a happy heart, they will have a happy time.  If they are unthankful, they will be miserable.  They also know the parks (from experience and the promo video that Disney will send for free – HIGHLY recommended) so they can tell me ahead of time what they want to do when they get there.  That way we can prioritize those things they really want to do rather than the latest thing that catches their eye.

3) Make use of Services

Disney does a fantastic job to accommodate people of all types.  In some ways, it feels like a convention of families with special needs.  However, you need to ask in order to be receive assistance.  To start, head to Guest Services and ask about services available for children of special needs.  I recommend inquiring about the Guest Assistance Card.

4) Remember the Critical 3 needs

If I weren’t so tired, this topic would be number three.  I am sure you can cope.  Nutrition, Hydration and Exercise are things your children need in steady doses.  Make sure you are all  drinking regularly, getting some healthy snacks (trail mix, peanuts, granola bars, etc.) and getting some chance to use their big muscles (if they are mobile) will help keep their them from wild mood swings.  Disney has play areas in every park.  Use them.  Trust me, it will be worth it.

5) Remember their frames

It is easy when in a place like Disney to push on to “just one more thing.”  The problem is at some point, you will push the children beyond what they can handle.  You are asking for a meltdown if you don’t pay close attention to their conditions.  Disney provides something for your eyes to see everywhere you look.  Additionally, the volume is loud, the crowds are bustling, there are all kinds of smells, and it is probably hotter than they are used to.  All of this is pushing their senses beyond what they normally handle. It can be mentally exhausting for them just to filter out what they don’t want to pay attention to. Keep that in mind and pace yourselves.

Part of pacing yourself is resolving not to stay too late, and not to try to do everything.  Yes, tickets are expensive, but if you want this to be something your family enjoys, then be prepared to stay extra days rather than make the days too long.  Disney’s tickets after day three are about $11 a day.

6) Leave a “down day” in your schedule.

Yesterday, it was obvious that P.C. (who is a sensory avoider) was out of gas.  We were literally pulling out of the street from our rented home when we decided he needed a break.  He was beginning to deregulate and we hadn’t even gone a block.  I stayed home with him and went through a sensory diet that included a lot of big muscle exercise and he was a new little man.  He had a great day at home and was extremely happy again (his usual state).

Today was a great day for him, probably his best of the trip.  In addition to being better prepared and regulated, he also knew his own limits better and was not afraid to ask for more help than previously.  The “down day” made the rest of the trip possible for him.  He can now enjoy the next couple of days before we head back home.

Making Memories

Ultimately, a trip like this is about making memories together as a family.  The question is, what kind of memories are you going to make?  If you approach the outing with preparation, and patience, you will make some great memories that the whole family will enjoy.  If you don’t you will create memories of anger and tension.  No one chooses to make the second of memories, but if you can easily end up there if you don’t work at it.  Find what works for your family and enjoy your trip!

One thought on “Special Needs at Disney World

  1. Good advice,John. The girls look adorable. The only problem I see,a lot of parents cannot afford some of your suggestions.

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