Navigating Disney World with Special Needs Kids

My family loves Walt Disney World. My wife and I met at Disney when we were working in the Canadian Pavilion in Epcot for a year, and we now have three Disney-loving boys, including our son Walter, who has Autism.  Navigating Disney World with a special needs child can be daunting but we knew we could make it work with the help of the Disney Cast Members.

We were excited to plan our first family trip to Disney World since the pandemic but worried how Walter would manage with the crowds, long lines and loud music at the Disney theme parks.

After a not-so-great first day, we decided to get proactive and ensure a better day two. We went to Guest Relations where some wonderful Cast Members (Disney park staff) helped us. Our trip was amazing, and our special needs son still talks about it every day. Here’s what we learned.

Sign up for this special Disney service

For kids like Walter, who have what Disney calls “cognitive disabilities,” ask about the Disability Access Service.

Here’s how it works: once it’s set up, you go onto the My Disney Experience App on your phone and click on the DAS button.

You will see wait times for various rides in the park. Let’s say the next ride you want to do has a wait time of 30 minutes. Click to book that ride (for up to six people previously linked), and you’ll be assigned a time, usually in 30 minutes.

Now you can go have a snack, visit the restroom or get an autograph from Goofy until your scheduled time. When you show up at the ride, you’ll be escorted into the Lightning Lane entrance, which usually means a short wait.

The DAS can be set up between 30 and two days before your trip during a video chat. Your child needs to be present as the Disney staff person will take a photo. A doctor’s note is not needed.

Qualifying is not so much about a diagnosis or label — it’s about what challenges your child has, and what’s needed to make the experience better. And there’s a perk to registering in advance: you get to pre-book two rides for each day.

If you haven’t signed up in advance, head to Guest Relations inside the park (in City Hall if you’re at Magic Kingdom) to get it done. The DAS app is good for 60 days.

Any problems with the DAS or the app? Just look for one of the Blue Umbrella kiosks around the parks — they’ll solve it for you!

More Disney accommodations to look into

Consider packing these must-haves

Rules and practices do change from time to time, so check the WDW website and the Facebook group DAS Pass at Disney.

Ultimately, the best part for us was seeing how helpful and accepting the Cast Members were. They really went out of their way to make the trip magical for everyone in our family. We’ll be back!

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