Everyday Decisions: Can I Take My Child with LD to Disney World?
Parents of children with learning differences and special needs are accustomed to working with schools to find modifications and accommodations that work in educational settings.
But what modifications do parents make in our day-to-day lives for the sake of our kids with disabilities? What obstacles do our special kids face at school, at home and on the field?
How do everyday decisions look different for families of children with differences?
This series focuses on how can parents like us can become better equipped to help our kids with learning disabilities (LD) participate fully and grow up normally. After all, no parent wants anything, including LD, to keep their child from experiencing all that life has to offer—and then some.
So, let’s dive in to Everyday Decisions by tackling a big issue many parents of children with differences face: how to do Disney.
The Real DealI give a lot of advice to parents with kids like mine, but this post starts with a confession: We have not taken our two children (ages 7 and 10) to Disney World or Disneyland.
Why not? There are several factors (including that we spend enough on private therapy yearly to pay for two Disney trips) but mainly because my husband and I have not been super-willing to face some of the challenges presented by both LD and other special needs.
We didn’t really intend to put it off, the timing has just never been right. Either one child had just started a new ADHD med, or the other was having trouble getting to sleep, or we were too busy advocating within our public school system to focus on the planning…
The point is, things related to our kids’ differences got in the way, and in many ways, caused the delay.
Disney Plus LDBut (now that I’ve gotten that off my chest!)—I’m excited to share that I just booked our Disney vacation for this Fall! And, now that I’m researching and writing about it, I’m feeling both equipped and challenged to gear up for the trip. Here’s the challenge:
How can we make a trip to Disney both special and enjoyable for my child, despite his challenges?
How can we make the trip of a lifetime go without a hitch while still meeting my child’s special needs?
Like me, your children may have issues that make pulling off a successful trip to Disney World seem daunting. While traveling with any child takes patience and planning, large theme parks and experiencing new things with kids with LD and other special needs can present unique challenges like:
- ADHD – Your child may have a lot of trouble waiting in lines, especially really long ones. (Try using a Disney line predictor app)
- Anxiety – Some kids with learning differences also struggle with anxiety, which can make any trip difficult. (Read on to learn how planning ahead can reduce everyone’s angst)
- Sensory Issues – Your child may not like fast rides, large crowds or noisy fireworks. (Use the Disney planning resources below to find alternative activities)
- High-Functioning Autism – Your child may have trouble with a different routine & scene. (Try this storyboard app to create a visual of what to expect: First Then Visual Schedule)
- Medications – Adjusting medications with different sleep schedules and other routine changes can be challenging. (Try using a med tracker app)
- Diet Restrictions – Not knowing where or when you can get the food your child needs can be enough in itself to put your trip on hold. (This Disney Dining App can help you find the right spot to chow.)
And here are the solutions I’ve discovered so far.
Plan Your PlanI used to be a planner. But, one of the things I had to let go when we discovered our children had special needs was the details. My house is not very neat, my drawers are not organized. It’s not by choice, it’s by necessity. I had to let some things go to properly focus on and advocate for my kids.
So, the thought of the detailed planning required for a Disney trip is intimidating. It’s just that I know how things sometimes go. Even the best laid plans fly out the window when your child has a “moment,” and you have to drop everything to meet their need—right then and there.
But, everything I read and hear from friends about Disney says the more you plan, the more enjoyable your trip will be. There are books, websites, even apps devoted to helping you analyze the crowd flow, choose the best dates and make sure not to miss what you care about the most. Scroll down for some helpful Disney planning resources.
My best laid plan for Disney will include a well-researched Plan A—but also a solid Plan B. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as the mother of two kids with differences, Plan B is often just plain better than Plan A, especially once you realize that Plan B is the only way your kids can experience something the way they actually need to experience it.
No Pie in the SkySet reasonable expectations. Let me say that again. Set reasonable expectations. And, since I’m talking to parents who have tackled the challenge of embracing and enabling a child who learns and plays differently, that’s probably enough said.
Enjoy the MomentIf your kids are happy as clams while meeting Mickey but then melt down in front of Princess Ariel, don’t fret. Decide before you go that you’ll enjoy every great moment and forget the not-so-great ones. Just because Disney is a memory maker doesn’t mean you have to remember both the good and the bad.
Accept the fact that your trip may not be picture perfect—and that’s OK! Only give your kids what they can handle and if that means you don’t see every castle or character, so be it. And help your kids set reasonable expectations for themselves as well.
A Dream Come TrueBut, most of all, remember that even with special challenges, your child with LD deserves for their dreams to come true—just like every other kid. So, make sure to pack your advocate hat, and speak up (just like you always do) if your child needs something that will make their Disney vacation the best it can be.
From what I’ve heard about the Disney parks, you are certain to find many accommodations and extra choices that will help your family feel like they not only fit in, but like the place was just made for them.
And that’s what dreams, especially for kids who feel different, are truly made of.
Tried and True Disney Planning ResourcesBased on expert opinion (and by experts I mean parent planners who have done Disney successfully!) I gathered the best of the best Disney planning resources with some special needs specific help at the bottom.
- Your First Visit – Site has terrific information on which weeks are best to visit, including crowd calendars ranked by expected volumes.
- All Ears – Good informational site on Disney World & Disneyland; includes discussion groups where you can find specific, recent reviews on resort properties.
- Disney World Planning Site
2013 Trip Planning Guide
Wait Time & Maps Apps
- Disney World Maps Free
- Disney World Wait Times Free
- Undercover Tourist Apps
- List of 9 Disney Planning Apps
- Disney World Apps (by Disney)
Disney Planning Book
- The Unofficial Guide – Walt Disney World 2013, by Bob Sehlinger
- Small World Vacations – A Disney specialist travel agency. They provide great information and take care of all reservations (including dining reservations), at no charge to you.
Disney Planning for Special Needs
- USA Today – How to Visit Disney World with Special Needs Kids
- AllEars.com – Special Needs Section
- About.com – Disney Travel Strategies for Special Needs
- Everything DisneyWorld for Special Needs
Lyn Pollard is a freelance writer, parent advocate, and the mother of two kids who learn and play differently. A former journalist and change management consultant, Lyn writes, talks and tweets about advocacy, literacy and safe schools for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Check out her piece in the New York Times.