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10 Tips to help you Navigate Disneyland with a Special Needs Child

This is our second year going to Disneyland with Emmett. As some of you are aware Emmett is diagnosed with Severe nonverbal Autism, Fragile X Syndrome, Epilepsy, Intellectual Disability, and Sensory Processing Disorder. Emmett really enjoyed Disneyland last year so we decided to try again this year. We also decided to try to take him to Disney California as well all in one day a little crazy on our side. Last year he was 2 years old he was way to small to ride most of the rides but this year it was perfect. Emmett will be 4 years old next month so he was able to ride all the rides that his 7 year old sister Amaya wanted to ride. I wanted to share a little about our experience and give you all some 10 helpful tips to make your special needs family experience more pleasant. 

1.Get the Disability Pass 
Once we got through the gate we headed over to City Hall. The line at City hall to get the disability pass was huge we waited about 45 minutes. I guess that's what happens when you come to Disneyland on a 3 day holiday weekend.  But don't freak out and wait it out it will be worth it trust me! The cast member at City Hall just asked us to tell them a little about Emmett. No paper work required legally they cannot asked you for any type of proof of your child's disability. I told them his diagnosis and she tried to interact with Emmett asked him for a high five and tried to get his attention. She was really sweet. Then asked us if it would be easier for Emmett to stay in the stroller until he had get on the ride we told her yes and that Emmett does not do well outside of the stroller. So she put a red tag on the stroller that said that we were using the stroller as a wheelchair for Emmett. 

The red wheelchair tag was a huge help because Emmett never had to leave the stroller unless it was to get on a ride and in some rides we were offered help to transferred him from the stroller to the ride. In the ride Is a Small World they even offered the boat that allows you to put the stroller with Emmett inside and they strap down the stroller. We did not use this service Emmett was OK with sitting on the boat next to us. 

At first we were very confused on how the disability pass worked we didn't know were to go or what to do, but after asking and getting lost we figured it out. 
The disability pass is linked to your ticket I believe you can have up to 6 people in your party. That meant that everyone in our party got to go in with us and does not have to wait in a separate line as long as Emmett can ride the ride. You have to check in the main hub of each park section and get a wait time and return at that time. The wait times were long like I mention earlier it was a 3 day weekend so it was very crowded. Our longest return wait time was 2 hours and our shortest was about 30 minutes. You can also use the Fast Pass line it works for the disability pass. On the plus side we got to walk around while we waited. Some rides did not require a return time. We simply went through the Exit where it has wheelchair accessible sign and we went right in. 

2. Prepare and Pack
I would highly recommend to pack a little bit of everything wipes,pull ups etc. Emmett requires medication so he had a separate bag just for that. The diaper bag included some of Emmet’s favorite snacks almonds, chex mix, and his sippy cup, water, etc. We also packed extra clothes for both of our kiddos. Emmett’s favorite blanket, and IPad. So just go ahead and pack whatever your child may need.

Things to pack if your Child has Sensory processing disorder 

Noise cancellation headphones: We did not used them at the beginning but towards the middle of the day Emmett used them in some of the louder rides,and they were a complete game changer. 

Comfort item: Emmett’s favorite blanket also help him stay calm which he took on the rides with him. Perhaps take your child favorite item. 

Sensory Compression suit: Emmett wore his compression suit all day since the moment we left the hotel. The Compression suit aids with shoulder trunk and hip stability balance coordination, and increases body awareness. He usually wears his suit when going to a new place or family members homes. We notice he is less anxious when he wears it and is willing to explore. It keeps him calm and decreases his need for sensory input. Emmett uses jumping to calm his body or pacing this definitely helps with that and allows him to sit and have a calm body.

Weighted vest: Emmett does not have a weighted vest but if your child does i would definitely recommend taking it. 

Chewy: Emmett uses his chewy on a regular basis. He uses it for Oral stimulation, and to redirect him from chewing his hand or fingers which he no longer does thanks to his chewy. He is less anxious when he is using it and has a calmer body. So if your child uses one don't forget it you will definitely need it. 

2. Stroller not a wagon. 

I made the huge mistake of not looking into their regulations on wagons. I guess pull wagons are not allowed only push front facing wagons. So we showed up to the huge line to enter the park and we were approach by security and we were told that it was not allowed. We ask if we could leave it in storage and we were told no. Their was no way we could go back to the hotel it was going to take way to long it was a 20 minute walk and car was not an option since we took the shuttle. The traffic was crazy and the shuttle wait time was about 30 minutes to and from the hotel so we were looking at an hour. Dad waited for the shuttle for about 30 minutes and nothing so he decided to fold it up and leave it at the front entrance at security if they were not willing to store it. Emmett was not having it this kid loves that wagon so when we folded it up and put it away he was crying and went full meltdown mode. This mama had to carry his 42 pound body for almost an hour while waiting for the line through get through security. It was not our brightest moment and we all wanted to have a meltdown too.Thank god my sister and brother in- law came with us they waited in line with our daughter while I went back and forth with Emmett, and Dad waited for the shuttle that never came. To make the long story short once we enter the park we went to rent out a stroller and long behold they took our wagon and stored it for us at a cost of course but at the point no one cared. 

3. Electronic Device

Yes I said it. Pack an extra phone or something that entertains your kids. I do not allow Emmett to have to much screen time but Disneyland is definitely the exception. The crowds were crazy and can trigger anyone's anxiety so we had to give in and keep him entertain while we cruse around. On the bright side he didn't need to use the phone when he was riding a ride he enjoyed.

4. Do your Research

Go to the Disney website and check height requirements and make a list of all the rides your child can ride or you think they might enjoy. Start of with the rides you know your child will enjoy first.
Emmett enjoys the rides with water a lot. Our biggest issue was getting Emmett of the ride. He began to have meltdowns when getting of the ride. So we decided to let him know when we were getting on and off the ride (verbally) and give him a reinforcer to get him off the ride. We started by giving him popcorn then we had to give in and give him the phone or iPad so he could watch his favorite show he transition more peacefully.  Perhaps take a few sugar free lollipops ;)

5. Take Breaks

 This was hard to do there is so much to see and do, but breaks are necessary for the kids sanity. We sat down and ate lunch.Perhaps choose a calm less crowded place. We took bathrooms breaks. Although my biggest complain was probably the bathrooms. Some were very filthy and not very disabled friendly. I heard there is companion bathrooms but I didn't not find any and the line for the bathroom was bit to much. Companion bathrooms are necessary for Emmett he gets overwhelm in public restrooms and he does not use a changing table he is scared, and to big for them so he has to get changed standing or in the stroller. 

6.Take an extra pair of hands if possible

Having my sister and brother in law made our experience more pleasant especially since we took our 7 year old with us. They lighten the mood when we had the stroller wagon incident and gave some extra attention to our daughter. Helps us stay calm and reminded us to take some photos to capture those special moments. Dad and I took turns riding the rides with Emmett so we could spend time with both kids. 

7. Meltdowns

You will probably not leave the happiest place on earth without a meltdown. So prepare yourself for it. Yes, people will stare and it's OK! Some people will also be nice about it. I'm not much about labels but it did help to have dad wear a shirt that raise awareness about Fragile X Syndrome that my sister custom made for him and Emmett. He even met a family that knew what Fragile X Syndrome which was awesome. Emmett was also wearing an Autism awareness shirt which help people understand why he was acting the way he was. 
Luckily Emmett only had about two full meltdowns the Wagon incident, and when he got on and off the Alice and Wonderland Ride. 
Heck even my 7 year old got a bit irritated towards the end. 

8. Disney California Adventure 

I will explain briefly our experience there. The wait time for the Radiator Spring Racers was about 3 hours it was brutal so we check in at public relations and went cruising around for those 3 hours we got to ride the Little Mermaid Ride and the Jumping Jelly fish, Monsters, Inc, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. We did not use the disability pass except for the radiator Spring racers. They made us wait in line but the wait line was about 30 minutes or so. 
Emmett and Amaya’s bucket list was the Radiator Spring Racers ride so we had to wait, and let me tell you it was worth the wait. Emmett enjoyed it so much he was so excited like I have never seen him before. He is definitely an adrenaline junkie. Amaya loved it too she said is her new favorite ride. 

9. Should I go to Both parks?

Personally, I wasn't a big fan of Disney California Adventure and my kids didn't look very interested in exploring it. It is way smaller than Disneyland and more for teenagers and the older population.The only reason we would go back to Disney California would be to ride the Radiator Racers ride my kids love that thing. Disneyland is definitely our favorite and we will probably will be back next year probably not on a 3 day weekend. 
Meeting the characters:
Last year my daughter Amaya was all into meeting all the characters she even made an autograph book. You can print some out for free online. But this year she was over it and didn't think the wait was worth it. She also tends to get a super shy when having to talk to them. Amaya has Fragile X Syndrome as well and it makes her super shy in social situations mostly with unfamiliar people.  
Emmett does not care for any characters he is more into the rides so we do not spend time trying to meet the characters. 
The Disney Parade:
This was our first time seeing the parade it was really beautiful the only down side is that it was an hour of standing in one place next to a bunch of people literally shoulder to shoulder. Emmett had zero interests in it he glance a few times but that was it. Amaya loved it was a great opportunity to see the characters up close without having to talk to them. 
Firework Show :
The firework show was cancel due to the weather being windy. We did the fireworks last year and it got a bit to loud for Emmet so we had to leave early so this year we had decided to skip out anyway.

10. Enjoy

Have a great time maybe make a small list of things or rides you must ride. (Bucket List) We make a mental note of one thing we must do at Disneyland my daughter chooses one ride she must ride. We try to do those things first that way we know our bucket list is complete and anything extra we do is a plus. 
Good Luck and have an amazing time!