Pass for Autistic Children to go Disney World!



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Age1600
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03 Oct 2007, 2:44 pm

A trip to Walt Disney World can be a positive, rewarding experience for children with autism and similar special needs. And while any Disney vacation requires a certain amount of planning, a little extra effort to accommodate your special child will pay large dividends when you get to the parks.

A Note from Your Doctor
One of the first things to do is obtain a letter from your child's primary physician that explains your child's specific condition and any special needs the condition implies. For example, some children with autism are unable to wait in lines for more than a few minutes, or in queues surrounded by a large number of people. Your doctor's letter should be explicit enough to fully convey your child's condition to the Disney Castmember reading the letter. We've found that the following template (on your doctor's letterhead) works well:

To Whom It May Concern:

<Child's name> is a delightful child who as been diagnosed with <child's condition>. This diagnosis impedes his ability to wait for extended periods of time and he struggles with sensory issues (e.g., touch) that may impact his ability to wait in lines. Please offer what accommodations you can for this young man and his family.

Sincerely,

<Doctor's name>

Disney's Guest Assistance Card
Bring your doctor's note to the Guest Relations window at any Disney theme park and ask for the Guest Assistance Card. The Guest Assistance Card is a special pass designed to allow you to wait in a separate, un-crowded holding area apart from the regular queues at most attractions. One Card is good for all four parks, so you do not need to obtain separate Cards at each park. You should also pick up a copy of each park's Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities (also available online at http://www.DisneyWorld.com . Type "guests disabilities FAQ" in the search tool and browse through the results.).

We have heard from several families with doctor's notes who were told by Disney Castmembers that no "special assistance" card existed. To test awareness of the Card, we sent research teams to ask for the Card at Guest Relations in each of the parks. In three out of four cases, the Disney Castmember knew exactly what we were looking for and explained clearly how the Card worked. At one park, however, we encountered a Castmember who knew nothing about the Card or how to get one. Aware of the high standards Disney normally has in this area, we figured it was time to give someone a call.

To their credit, Disney's Park Operations group was genuinely shocked to hear our findings. Their explanation, which we can understand, is that Guest Relations is occasionally staffed by recently hired Castmembers who may not yet be familiar with every benefit Disney offers. If you should encounter a Castmember-in-training, Disney advises the following: Firmly but politely ask for the Castmember's manager, and explain the situation to the manager. Managers at Guest Relations are seasoned Disney veterans who are virtually certain to know about the Guest Assistance Card. In the unlikely event that the manager does not know of the Card, ask to speak to an "Area Manager." An Area Manager is responsible for the day-to-day operation of a significant section of the park, and we're assured that they will know about the Card.

The Card does not allow you to bypass the normal waits at each attraction. It is designed to provide "more convenient entrance" into most attractions. In some cases, this entrance may be through the attraction's FASTPASS return line or the attraction's exit. The Guidebook for Guests with Disabilities will list the special entrance to use for each attraction, as well as any special effects (e.g., loud noises or flashing lights) in the attraction.

UPDATE 1/28/04 -- There have been a lot of questions lately about whether there's been a change in the WDW Special Assistance Card policy -- many folks are concerned that the new Disneyland policy has now also become WDW's policy, and that autistic children in particular will be excluded from this special pass.

Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx of Passporter WDW researched this question and here's what they've found:

"We visited Studios and Epcot Guest Services, and they were unaware of any recent changes. They did receive *new* Special Assistance Cards recently, with a reduced number of supported "needs" printed upon them - but autism is still one of the six needs they do support. It's true that they're no longer issuing SACs for typical wheelchair disabilities - FastPasses are recommended in those cases. SACs are issued for those needs that are not immediately visible to the naked eye of the ride operators (bring doctor's note, as
usual).

"We were quite clear when we asked. We said, 'A friend of ours has an autistic child and is planning a trip. She heard there was a recent policy change regarding the Special Assistance Cards. Is there anything we can tell her?' They didn't want to list the six specific needs they currently support, but they were emphatic that autism is supported, and that the SACs are still very much with us."

More Tips
Several families have sent us their hotel, restaurant and transportation tips, too. For example, a quiet hotel room can often help children unwind after a day in one of the parks. A list of the best room numbers in each Disney resort can be found in the Unofficial Guide to WDW. Other tips sent in by readers include the following:

· Be sure to schedule breaks throughout the day. A mid-day nap or quick dip in the pool may be just the thing to relax any weary, over-stimulated members of your group.

· A set of earplugs brought from home may help children with attractions that have loud music or sound effects.

· If you will be using a shuttle or bus service from the Orlando airport to your hotel, consider the use of a towncar service instead. Shuttle and bus services usually drop guests off at multiple hotels, and it is not uncommon for the trip to take two hours. In contrast, most towncar services will drive you directly from the airport to your hotel.

· If you're interested in a meal with the Disney characters, the reviews starting on page X will help you choose a suitable meal and location. For example, Cinderella's Gala Feast at the Grand Floridian is a boisterous, loud affair that may be overwhelming to any child.

· Whenever possible, obtain Priority Seating for meals and consider asking for a table near an exit or window.

· If traveling between Disney resorts, consider using a taxi instead of Disney transportation to save time.

· Sensory-defensive children may enjoy the 'deep pressure' sensation of the sandy beaches or whirlpools found at some Disney resorts. The wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon also gets high marks from readers.

· Pin trading with Disney Castmembers offers a safe, scripted opportunity for children to work on their social and communication skills.

We are grateful to the many families with autistic children who have shared their Disney experiences with us. Special thanks goes to the Cartwright family of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin


Reprinted with permission of Bob Sehlinger, 2003.

Other Information

FAQ with Tips and Ideas

A Special Place for Special Guests: Traveling to WDW with an Autistic Child

Reader Comments and Experiences


Its amazing what their doing to help autistic children, I think its such a good idea! I wish they had that when I was growing up, we stopped going because of how much a terror I was, due to so much overstimulation and sensory overloads!


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Stockton
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03 Oct 2007, 2:51 pm

I'd also suggest going during the school year when the parks aren't busy. That's good advice for anyone, let alone autistics.



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03 Oct 2007, 2:59 pm

Stockton wrote:
I'd also suggest going during the school year when the parks aren't busy. That's good advice for anyone, let alone autistics.


Yea I agree..


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Asparval
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03 Oct 2007, 2:59 pm

Sounds like my idea of a nightmare



KingdomOfRats
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03 Oct 2007, 3:09 pm

think it's for adults as well,or they have another one for adults-not just children.

they used to have one in disneyland [paris] but think they stopped it.


there are only two places am have ever wanted to go to for holiday-canada in winter,and disney world [animal kingdom hotel]
Age1600,
whats it like, as an autie? haven't heard anything about it from auties or aspies before,just NTs and parents of autie children.
it would be nice to know if it was still worth saving up for,but then again,it might never happen as plane is likely to be a major problem.

stockton,do know of anywhere that shows what dates school/major public holidays in america are?



Stockton
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03 Oct 2007, 3:19 pm

School holidays in both Canada and the US are usually two weeks at Christmas, one week in mid-march, then part of June and the whole of July and August.



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03 Oct 2007, 3:21 pm

KingdomOfRats wrote:
think it's for adults as well,or they have another one for adults-not just children.

they used to have one in disneyland [paris] but think they stopped it.


there are only two places am have ever wanted to go to for holiday-canada in winter,and disney world [animal kingdom hotel]
Age1600,
whats it like, as an autie? haven't heard anything about it from auties or aspies before,just NTs and parents of autie children.
it would be nice to know if it was still worth saving up for,but then again,it might never happen as plane is likely to be a major problem.

stockton,do know of anywhere that shows what dates school/major public holidays in america are?


I don't know yet, I plan on going to disney world either in Nov,Dec,Jan or Feb with my boyfriend for a couple days, and I just found out auties can get passes too. I'm going to look into it, and if it all works out, I'll tell how it is, I hope it will work for autie adults as well as autie children. I know even though I can handle more then I could when I was a child, still big crowds, and so much noise drives me nuts, so I'll let you know!


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Ana54
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24 Oct 2007, 8:19 pm

Aw; and I was excited thinking you meant free all-expenses-paid-vacation passes! :lol:



siuan
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24 Oct 2007, 11:25 pm

That is awesome! We want to plan a trip for our children (one's got Asperger's, one is autistic) to Disney and it is nice to know that they have disability services available to accommodate children with autism. Thanks for posting this!


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Kalister1
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25 Oct 2007, 12:05 am

I wonder if I can get all these perks.

I'm a child at heart :lol:



MrMacPhisto
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25 Oct 2007, 7:14 am

I went to Disney World when I was 5 years old and I didn't like it I didn't really like Disney cartoons when I was that age the only cartoons I liked were Looney Toons and Tom and Jerry.



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25 Oct 2007, 8:38 am

Hey Guys,

We took our Aspie son to Disney World for his 5th Birthday. We got the doctors note and went to special services desk. When we asked for the pass, we mentioned we had a doctors note, but the cast member said, "No worries, we are not allowed to see the note, but just tell me what's his diagnosis" We said He has aspergers, a form of HFA. He immediatly pulled out a pass to bypass all lines for outr ENTIRE stay at disney. This pass was INCREDIBLE!! !! !!. It was for our entire party. So, when the line at the Pirates of the Carriban said it was 2 hours long, we waited 8 minutes. We went on it 3 times in 1 hour. We got the most of it.

There were a lot of parents with Children on the spectrum using the pass.

Also, if your kids like the Charaters, make sure to do Character Dining. Make your reservations well in advance. It was his best birthday ever.

Also, the doctors note worked as well at Sea World. There they did ask for it.

Also, I recommend renting a villa 15 mins away instead of in the park. We had a 4 bedroom house with its own swimming pool in a resort for half of what it would cost to stay in the park for a regular double bed room.

Send me an IM if you have any questions



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25 Oct 2007, 8:50 am

I don't think that Disney *anything* is a rewarding perk for anyone let alone an autistic child that can't process his/her senses *anyway*. Geeze. Bring the child out into NATURE where he/she can relax, allow and be - making availble the opportunity to process stimuli - gentle and flowing - at their own pace and level.


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25 Oct 2007, 12:09 pm

I guess it would depend on the child. It was upon his request that we went to Disney. He was another child when we were there. It was a "Magical" moment when he blew out his 5 candles with Mickey Mouse by his side. I've never seen him happier.



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25 Oct 2007, 12:17 pm

ChristiansDad wrote:
I guess it would depend on the child. It was upon his request that we went to Disney. He was another child when we were there. It was a "Magical" moment when he blew out his 5 candles with Mickey Mouse by his side. I've never seen him happier.


Whenever 10,000's of men, women and children exude happiness, excitement and unabashed joy, you'd be surprised how catching and *infectious* the vibe can be. So it doesn't surprise me that this child was influenced.

But take any group, anywhere and drum up happiness, excitement, fun and any other positive emotion and multiply that by the thousands and you can be sure that the child will be influenced by that just as much.

It's not *disneyland* that's causing the shift per se, it's the *sentiments* it brings out in people. As the hype, sell and advertisements for 40 years have been drumming into the masses' brains - so it is. If that same ad campaign was put into people and Nature - loving the sights, smells, gorgeousness of all things alive and living - we'd be witnessing a whole other society - completely.


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