Touring Walt Disney World with Cognitive Disabilities
What are the attractions like?
If you are planning on a trip to Disney World and a member of your party has a cognitive disability such as Autism, a major concern is probably the attractions and any situations they might create that would not be ideal. It is very important to read a description of an attraction to ensure that everyone in the group is comfortable with experiencing the attraction. You can find descriptions of most attractions at Walt Disney World on our specific park pages.
What if only some members of our group want to ride?
If some members of your party wish to participate in an attraction while others do not, Walt Disney World offers Rider Switch services so that no one is left out or left alone.
What about waiting in line?
Walt Disney World offers a Disability Access Service to those individuals with special needs. This service will limit the amount of time that your group will have to wait in line.
There are a lot of different dining options at Walt Disney World, and the experiences at each restaurant are varied. Some venues are very subdued and quiet, while others are boisterous and loud. Depending on whether you would be more comfortable in a loud setting or a soothing one, it is important to read about the dining setting to be sure that everyone will be okay with the environment. The MouseForLess has dining descriptions for each restaurant at Walt Disney World to aid in your decisions. Remember that most table service dining venues recommend advanced reservations. Most table service restaurants will prepare food according to any special dietary needs. Counter service restaurants will generally have set options for those with common dietary accommodations.
Smell the Roses
A trip to Walt Disney World is such a magical experience! There is so much to see and do that it is easy to get into commando mode, and try to do it all. Most of the time you will have a much more enjoyable trip if you take your time and enjoy the little things around the park. This becomes even more true when touring Walt Disney World with cognitive disabilities. Be sure to be aware of how everyone in the group is doing, and take plenty of breaks to avoid any meltdowns. It is okay if you do not get to see everything. Most likely you will be much happier with your trip if you take your time and take care of your family rather than rushing to see every attraction.
Where to go to escape over stimulation?
There is a lot going on at Walt Disney World and this can be a challenge even for those without a cognitive disability. The good news is that there are plenty of places to go that are calmer and quieter than the busy areas of the park. The First Aid Centers are great places to go and take a break in the air conditioning and relatively quiet environment. Check out our list of Napping places in Walt Disney World for a list of some great areas to go to rest and calm down.
How to prepare for the trip?
There are a lot of things that you can do to be proactive about the challenges posed by touring Walt Disney World with cognitive disabilities. You can practice walking to prepare for the great amount of walking you will likely do at Disney. You could practice riding in a wheelchair or stroller if that is something that will happen while at Disney. You can even practice standing in line. There are a lot of videos online that show exactly what it is like walking through Walt Disney World. Watching these may help those with cognitive disabilities to be ready for the magic of Disney. Practicing wearing a Magicband may be helpful. Remember you do not have to use the Magicband, a card ticket or phone may be used instead.
If you will be using a stroller or wheelchair in the parks, you are absolutely allowed to bring your own. If you would prefer to rent from Disney that can be done at the entrance to each park. Many people decorate their strollers and wheelchairs for fun and for easy identification. TheMouseForLess has some great printables to help ID your stroller or wheelchair.
Things to Bring
Guests with cognitive disabilities may benefit from bringing something that is comforting to them in case they need something familiar in a place that seems very foreign. It is also recommended to bring headphones or earplugs to reduce some of the noise of the Disney Parks. Any sensory toys that are helpful may also be of benefit to bring. It is a good idea to wear something with identification and information about cognitive disabilities and special needs in case you get separated. One other idea is to bring a reward for good behavior; this can add special fun to a magical day.
Entering the Parks
Entering the Disney World theme parks may be intimidating for those with cognitive disabilities. Once you get to the entrance from the bus stop or parking lot you then must go through security. After that, you use your phone/ticket/Magicband to enter the park, and then you are surrounded by a very exciting environment. All of these stimuli, from security guards to other excited families, may be a lot for someone with cognitive disabilities. Be sure to prepare accordingly. Anticipating that entering the parks could pose a challenge gives you the opportunity to practice and get ready for this experience.
Where to go for help
If at any time you have a problem while touring a Walt Disney World theme park there are cast members everywhere that are ready to help. Every cast member may not be perfectly equipped to fix your problem, but they can certainly find someone who is, and that is very important when you need assistance. Disney cast members nearly always will go above and beyond to see that you are having a magical day. If you need medical help or a quiet place each park has a First Aid and Baby Care center to take care of your needs. Be sure to stop by Guest Relations for any questions you may have and to sign up for the Disability Access Service. Guest Relations cast members will do everything they can to make sure you have a great Disney day!