Monday, November 24, 2014

Guest Post: "Disney With Special Needs"

As you may have seen in a previous post, I recently did a vlog with my understanding of how the DAS system works at Disney World, and I asked if anyone had their own experience to share regarding special needs at the Walt Disney World parks. Jennifer Lee wrote out a very detailed response, which she allowed me to share here with you guys! Hope it helps anyone out there that was wondering about visiting Disney with their special needs family member. And thanks so much to Jennifer Lee for taking the time to share!

We went last year in November, just after Disney had introduced the new passes in place of the older GAC card. My boys were 2.5 ASD, nonverbal, and 4 months. 
The first day you spend at the park, go immediately upon entry to guest services and tell them what your child needs. You don't have to say any diagnosis, just what is important for your child. For us, we needed our stroller with us at all times. DS is a runner if he sees anything of interest, he can overwhelmed in crowds and needs his personal space, and he needs to be able to nap when he's tired. Plus, when he's done walking, he just sits on the ground and won't move. On top of that, we had a 4 month old baby with us.
I told the man at guest services that we needed to keep our stroller with us, (most children's attractions are with stroller parking long before the entrance) he only asked how long we were staying. He took a paper tag thingy (like you get on your luggage at the airport) and wrote our last day on it and that was it. 
Our experience after that depended upon the attraction we were at. We went on the jungle cruise with our 4, my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, and their 2 kids. Because we all wanted to be in the same boat, the man explained there were only so many wheelchair accessible boats, and since families with wheelchairs were already waiting it would take about 20 min. He wrote on a paper group of 10, after whatever time 20 min later was. So we went up and got on the flying carpets ride, (the newborn stayed on the ground with my dad), and then my niece met Jasmine while we got something to drink, and then we went on the jungle cruise.
Just the four of us went on the Finding Nemo, The Seas, or whatever it's called ride at Epcot. There, we just pushed the stroller all the way up until we got into the shells you ride in and when we got off of the ride, our stroller was waiting for us to go through the aquarium area (all other strollers had to be parked about 100 feet from the building). There was a small wait in the line, but Disney lines always have really neat stuff to see anyways, and with DS having the personal space from his stroller, for us: the wait wasn't bad. 
We wanted to go on Goofys Barnyard whatever its called roller coaster just DS and myself, but we needed to push the double stroller all the way up, and daddy and baby needed to not go on the ride. The ladies there, just put us straight into the fast pass lane.
There are tons of circumstances around each decision of the cast members that all depend upon the ride, the line (some lines are important to the story and its a shame to miss out on them) and your needs as a family. But not every cast member knows what autism is or what a child with autism needs. Hell, no one in the world could say what every kid with autism needs because they're all so different. That's why it's important to tell the guest services member at the beginning what you need. Then the cast members see what that person has written down in a form they understand and can help you out. I may be biased, because I love disney, and I used to work there, but cast members really do enjoy seeing people have a good time there.

As far as food goes, anyone can bring their own food or drink although I don't know if they have certain rules about containers (lots of public places don't want glass containers brought in, for example). If you do have dietary issues, Disney is amazing with that. We had GFCFSF diet and we only had to say allergy and they would send out a chef to go through everything with you whether at a table service meal or a quick service meal to help you plan a meal together of stuff your little one can, and will want to eat. The exception, small carts. They have a detailed ingredient list in a book, places like the turkey leg stand, and so on.
My personal tips, if your little one will do a stroller, bring one from home that has good wheels that pushes well (we went once with my niece and a cheap a** umbrella thing that I wanted to throw away after two min.). It should be able to lay back/recline to a sleeping position. We also had an extra canopy for ours for a more enclosed space when needed. I'll put a link or pic of it I can find one. While Disney does have strollers to rent, they are hard plastic with no give and while they are great for bigger kids who don't want a nap but don't want to walk all day and instead jump in and out a stroller. They do not lean back at all. Imagine being in an air plane seat all day with your feet straight out in front of you (like in the Saturn's back around 2000, and not being able to lean back. Ugh... not comfy.)
If feasible, stay at a monorail resort. Only on the monorails do you not have to fold up your stroller when boarding. We were lucky to be traveling with lots of family so some people could carry children and some stroller parts onto the buses. Next time, we'll stay on the monorail circuit. 
  And don't try to do everything. I'm sure you know this since you've been to the parks so much, but doing the park slowly takes on another whole dimension with a little one in tow. Oh, we watched YouTube videos of the different attractions getting ready to go to the park so my little guy would know what to expect. We also watched some videos of the castle shows, and right after we got to the castle the first day a show began that we had seen on YouTube (check on the disney app for which shows are playing during your days there) and it was amazing to see DS's face light up while watching it. I was in tears.

Also, if you're wondering about the stroller: It is from the brand ABC Design.  It is available in Germany, and possibly some other countries as well. And it is actually a combination of two different strollers. The frame and one seat are part of the Zoom, which is a double stroller, but the baby seat is from our Turbo 6S.  Baby seats are available for the Zoom specifically but they cost extra and we already had the turbo seat, and it worked just fine.

-Jennifer Lee

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