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  • Writer's pictureBrenda

WDW Planning on the Spectrum

Updated: Apr 23

With a child on the Autism spectrum we've spent a lot of time navigating WDW through this lens. From our experience, here are things that need to be considered before a WDW trip with a family member on the spectrum.

As you’ve surely figured out by now my family is a big Disney family. We take trips almost yearly and would do more if our funds would allow. What is less obvious is that Disney is not always an easy trip for us and we often have to make compromises to make it work for our family. We have a family member on the autism spectrum who struggles everyday interactions that a neurotypical person would take for granted. We have another who stuggles with social anxiety. Crowded places, particularly those outside of their routine and safe places are huge triggers for both of them. So you can see why a Disney trip might be difficult for our family group. Fortunately, Disney has this wonderful offering called the Disability Access Service (or DAS) that has allowed us to enjoy trips even with these struggles. Read more about DAS here. ***Read upcoming changes to DAS here.

Below are some of the ways we approach our WDW trip in order for it to be successful for everyone.

  • We research what is new and different. We decide what our goals are for this trip. We get input from everyone traveling and determine ahead of time how to realistically make the things that are most important to everyone happen.

  • We make lists by park and decide how much time we need at each park to manage these things.

  • We consider crowd size and the weather. While crowd size can make navigating WDW dicey for some of our family members, as experienced travels, we have worked out how to manage this in a way that works for us. (See more in our crowds tips and tricks post here.) Heat is another problem entirely. Florida can be uncomfortably hot year round, but this is extreme in the summer months, and that can be triggery for some of our family members. We do not travel to Walt Disney World in the summer for this reason, even if it means we may be stuck with holiday crowds.

  • We look at our budget for this trip and if we need Park Hopper, or can we do it on a 1 Park per Day ticket.

  • We look at how to group our plans geographically in each park in order to limit too much back and forth walking, which makes everyone more tired and more cranky.

  • We look for places or rides where we can allow people to bubble and regroup. We determine if we need to build in hotel time every afternoon or if we can create breaks within the park at a show or a quiet corner instead. Read more about places we have found to take a brief break from the crowds for a sensory break here.

  • If we want to do something that is going to be hard for them, like Fantasmic! or Happily Ever After, both involving large crowds, we figure out how to manage it in a way that minimizes anxiety. Can we afford a desert party so they are in a less crowded area? Do we need to watch Happily Ever After from a further away spot at the end of Main Street near the train station or in front of Crystal Palace instead of right in front of the castle? How early do we need to find a spot in order to control the experience better? We find it best to try and only plan one of these kinds of experiences per vacation, and have a family member who is willing to walk away early with anyone who might be struggling.

  • We try to stay at a hotel with faster transportation, such as the Skyliner, Boat, or Monorail, to and from the parks. The Skyliner is a great feature for our family. Buses are crowded and can be hard, especially for our son when they are crammed full of people. We budget a couple of Uber rides for nights where he just cannot manage the bus.

  • We look at the dietary needs of our family members and make choices ahead of time on where and when to eat. Trying to find places to eat once everyone is hungry and cranky can ruin a park day for us, so this is very important to us. Sit-down restaurants are a great way to take a break for my family, so we tend to schedule one a day. We book ARDs 60 days out to ensure we can eat where we would like.

  • You should for the DAS pass online up to 30 days before the start of your trip. We make sure to do this so we are ready to go with the DAS pass as soon as we enter our first park. Make sure you have picked the rides you wanted added ahead of time and some back up choices.(***Upcoming changes to DAS may eliminate the Advance DAS selections - read more here.) Read more about how to go through that process here.

  • We try to have an easy day on our arrival day. Sometimes that means we fly in early, do a half day in the park then head back to the room right after dinner. Sometimes that means arrive in the early afternoon then either relax at the pool or head to Disney Springs.

  • And again we try to be flexible to everybody’s needs daily. Having a structured plan is important, but within that plan making sure people’s problems are being heard and addressed is the most important thing in having a successful vacation for my family.


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