Surviving Disney World is hard as it is. People do research months in advance. My family’s situation was different.
So in 2015, my uncle in Texas was going to Disney World with his family that summer and suggested that we go with them. We gave told them yes, but there was a lot of stress surrounding the decision. See, my brother has autism. He was 15 at the time, so it would be different from how Disney trips were when we were younger. We didn’t have to worry about him as much because he was young and he stayed in the stroller most of the time. People barely bat their eyes. We also didn’t go on a lot of rides because he couldn’t wait in the lines. This was fine because back then the characters would roam around and there would be street shows, so we still had fun. Taking a teenager with autism is a whole different story than taking a young child with autism. So yeah. We were worried.
My family from Australia is coming to America for the first time this July and one of the places we’re taking them is to Disney World. We are significantly less worried this time because, now, we know what we’re doing. Here is a post I wish existed last summer, when we took my 15-year-old brother with autism to Disney World. I hope it will help.
//Our Biggest Worries//
//He would wander off without us
We have lost Mysoon before. He sometimes wanders off and we have had to call the police to find him. We’ve lost him at the beach and in other states, so this is a common worry. This was one of our biggest worries, because if he was alone, he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone who he was how to find us.
//The noise would overwhelm him
Mysoon is very sensitive to sound. He’s even more so, now that he’s older. Recently, we have had to cover his ears *when something was loud. It’s not something we excessively have to do, but Disney world is pretty loud and it would probably be overwhelming.
//He would punch a hole in the wall or hit someone on accident
When Mysoon is frustrated, he bangs on the wall or table to express his frustration. One day we were walking through ikea and he hit a woman’s arm on accident. We were worried he would do something and cause a scene.
//He would make a lot of noise during the shows
This is a huge problem at the movie theatre because he starts talking or mumbling in the middle of one, which disturbs other people watching. We were worried that he would bother other people at the park during shows.
//He wouldn’t enjoy it
Disney World is expensive, and it would be a waste of money and time if he didn’t like it. My mom seriously considered staying at home with Mysoon, and letting my dad take me and Zidan to hang with our cousins. I convinced her against it because Mysoon would rather be at Disney World with us, rather than being home alone wondering where we were.
These were our biggest concerns. Here are some tips and tricks on how to survive Disney World (or any park really) with a teen with autism, that worked for us.
//Tips and Tricks//
//Get a Disability Pass From Your Doctor
The moment my mom told one of Mysoon’s psychiatrists that we were going to Disney World, he wrote us a pass. Apparently, Disney changed a lot of the perks they give in their disability passes because many people without special needs family members were taking advantage.
//How to Get a Disability Pass
Basically, on the first day of your trip, you need to go to Guest Services,which is located right next to where you check in and the security guards check your bags. You will go up and give the person at the booth you’re doctor’s note. Someone came out and scanned Mysoon’s Magic band, and took his picture. After that, he scanned ours and took our picture. Remember, you have to do this every time you enter the parks, so every day we had to go to guest services. You don’t need to give them your information again. They only scanned Mysoon’s magic band to see who was in the system.
//How Many Family Members Can Use It?
As many as you want. We went with my uncle’s family, so there were ten people in our party. Guest services scanned all of our magic bands and took all of our pictures. This meant everyone could use Mysoon’s disability pass, so long as Mysoon was present. We also didn’t need to stay together. One day, we went to EPCOT, while my cousins went to Magic Kingdom because they are younger than us and would enjoy it more. We used the disability pass at EPCOT, without them being present. Sometimes, seven went on a ride, other times three. Everyone didn’t need to be present.
//How The Disability Passes Actually Work?
It works like a fast pass, only for every ride. First, you go to the start of the line. There should be a Disney Cast member there. They would scan Mysoon’s band, then they will give you a designated time to come back, and they will automatically let you in. You get to skip the line. This is how Disney makes it fairer to other visitors at the park.
Most of the time the cast members will just let you into the fast pass. The waiting only usually happens with crowded rides. They gave us a time for Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, but they automatically let us in for other popular rides like Peter Pan’s Flight and Splash Mountain, without any problems.
There will be some waiting in line. Just not as excessive as it normally would be. You will generally only enter the Fastpass lines. (But just so you know, we went in July, which is one of the most crowded months. We still got in fast, but it’ll be faster in other months)
Disney was quite accommodating to us. Whenever we went to a show, a cast member would escort us to disability seating. We could ask them to put us in places that weren’t as loud or closer.
For the Fantasmic show at Hollywood Studios, my mom told a cast member about his sensory and focus problems, so she escorted us to really good seats at the center. The same goes for when we went to restaurants.
We never went to any of the Disney Restaurants where we had to make a reservation, so I don’t have any information for you on that. I am assuming that they are just as accommodating as they are at the parks.
These were a lifesaver at the shows. Disney shows are really loud, but the noise-cancelling headphones helped Mysoon enjoy the shows a lot better than he would have without them. We got ours at the gun section at Wal-Mart. (We got actual headphones that are actually for people with disabilities when we got home.) Disney World was our first experience with the noise-cancelling headphones, but we love them. Now, we have Mysoon use them all the time, whether at the store or at the movies. They help him a lot. You can find them here.
//Get Frogg Toggs
Everyone knows that Florida is really hot. I went there during Christmas 2013, and it was 80 degrees. Frogg Toggs are like towels. You’re supposed to wet them and then put them on your neck. They last for hours and they REALLY help. We had three for the five of us, and I’d notice the difference immediately when we switched off. Keeping someone with autism as comfortable as possible is the best way to prevent episodes, so I highly recommend these when going to Disney World. For anyone.
(Once again, you should know that we went in July)
//Bring Their Favorite Snacks
Mysoon doesn’t eat much as it is, so we knew that he wouldn’t eat most of the food at the restaurants. We brought pretzels, juice boxes, and other snacks that he enjoyed to calm him down when he was frustrated or for when he wouldn’t eat all his lunch. We always ordered foods we knew he would eat like chicken strips and fries at the concession stands. We also bought coke as a treat for him. We don’t normally drink soda at home, so soda was one of the goodies for him.
//Stay On Property
The transportation alone is a reason enough to stay on property. We could just get on a shuttle to any park we wanted. And when the park closed, there was a shuttle waiting to take us back to the hotel. It was also a lot faster than driving because the shuttles run within the Disney property. If we had driven we would have had to drive a longer route, park, then take the ferry to the parks. This helped with Mysoon a lot because one day after touring Hollywood Studios I think, he started crying because he was totally exhausted, so getting back to the hotel quickly was very helpful
(All the buses have handicapped seating and ramps for people with wheelchairs)
The resorts are really nice and worth the money. All the resorts have really nice pools, which was a big factor in terms of Mysoon because he loves them. Even if we hadn’t stayed at a Disney Resort, we would have gone to a hotel with a pool. The resorts also have an outdoor movie theatre near the pools and show a different Disney movie each night. It was a nice way to unwind.
//Teach Them How To Use The Magic Bands
The door keys to the room are the magic bands. You scan it to the sensor on the door, then you’ll be let in. We made sure to do this just in case we lost Mysoon or he locked himself out of the room (He liked to walk around on the patio outside our room), so he could let himself back in.
//Rent A Wheel Chair
The first day and a half, we didn’t use a wheelchair. Mysoon would get really tired which led to him lashing out. The problem was that at the time, Mysoon couldn’t express when he was hungry or tired (He’s gotten a lot better at that). We were at the Italy Pavillion at EPCOT and Mysoon was really tired, so my mom had the idea to get a wheelchair. We didn’t even have to go to the main entrance to get one. A store clerk called someone and it was brought to us. It took maybe ten minutes. We didn’t have to go anywhere. We just sat and waited in the air-conditioned store, until someone came with. The change was immediate and it solved most of our problems:
- We didn’t have to worry about Mysoon wandering off. If he was tired, he could sit in the chair. If he wanted to walk with us or take a picture, he could just get up.
- He would tire out less easily, which reduced some of his frustration
- We got special access without asking. We got it anyway. The disability pass at Disney is the same for all spectrums of disabilities. We just didn’t have to explain as much. They still scanned everything the same way. The headphones helped too because it got tiring to explain things over and over again.
- We could hang our bags off of it. This may seem like a small thing, but I wouldn’t have noticed how freeing it was to not have anything on my shoulders unless I had hung it on the wheelchair. It was noticeable how much more comfortable everyone was without bags on their shoulders.
//Let Them Sleep In
This was something my mother was adamant about. She didn’t want us to wake up Mysoon in the morning. She wanted him to wake up on his own. I know all the Disney sights say to wake up early and be at the parks at the time they open, but we knew that rushing and waking up early would stress Mysoon out. We still got to the parks in the morning (Usually between 9-10 AM) and got almost always finished the attractions we wanted to go on, so it wasn’t a huge problem. Also, because we stayed at a Disney Resort, we could stay at the parks longer with Extra Magic Hours.
//Do Things That They Will Enjoy
We made sure to put rides Mysoon would enjoy on our list. We did Peter Pan’s Flight and the Winnie the Pooh ride because he loves those movies. We also met Tarzan and Micky because we knew he would enjoy those character interactions. You should prioritize things that they like the same way you would do with any members of the group.
//Avoid Things You Know Will Bother Them
Mysoon absolutely HATES getting wet. At home, even when a tiny drop of water gets on his shirt, he changes. For this reason, we avoided Splash Mountain. We did go on Kali River Rapids because we wanted to. We just made sure to do it last, so that we could leave the park immediately after and head to the hotel. We actually got lucky because Mysoon and my mom sat in seats where they didn’t get sprayed. What dumb luck!
Remember to still ride rides that you and the rest of your party will enjoy, just keep the person with autism out of it. My other brother, Zidan, wanted to go on Splash Mountain, so he went with my dad, while my mom, Mysoon, and I waited for them. (I don’t like that ride. I’ve been on it multiple times. It’s not that I’m scared, I just don’t enjoy it.) Don’t let the rest of your party suffer because of one member’s preference.
//Bring Their IPad or Other Device
Disney World has Wifi because of their vacation planning app. This is really convenient for parents of people with autism because their children can watch their favorite shows or play games while waiting. (Well, I guess that’s great for ANY parent). Having the iPad was great for when Mysoon got upset. We could turn on YouTube videos or a puzzle for him to play to calm him down.
So that’s it. These are all the things that helped us survive Disney World with a teenage boy with autism. We are completely prepared for our trip this summer. I hope this helps you.
Did I miss anything? What are your best tips for taking a child with a disability to Disney World or any other theme park?