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Theme park tips for children with special needs

Posted at 1:40 PM, May 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-25 15:40:54-04

Meagan Forsgren with ILS Learning stopped by the studio to discuss resources at summer theme parks to make sure children with sensory issues and other special needs have a good time. For more information about ILS Learning, click here.

Children with sensory issues and other special needs may find their experience at summer theme parks much different from mainstream children. Many times they can be overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, big crowds and long waits in lines. What should be fun for the whole family could end in meltdowns, tantrums, anxiety and crying even before you make it into the park on any rides.
Luckily, many theme parks across the world are becoming more aware of these issues and are catering to families and children with special needs. Your child doesn't have to be in a wheelchair for you to take advantage of their programs and services that can help your child have a wonderful experience at their park.

Several parks, including Disneyland and Universal Studios, have special programs for parents and children who need quiet rooms, fast-passes, re-rides, strollers and even a 'buddy' in some cases to help them on and off rides.

What to Bring:

• Sunglasses: Sunglasses can also be used at night if you plan to take your children to any parades, light shows or nighttime productions. Because sensory children are often bothered by bright light or flashing lights, sunglasses may help them experience the nightlife at these theme parks without you having to skip the events altogether.
• Noise-cancelling Headphones: Be prepared for your child to use these all day, even on rides and in lines while you wait to filter out background noise. If you have noise-cancelling headphones that connect with your iPhone, you can play calming music for them while you wait in line.
• Games and Apps: If you have apps on your phone, there are several that cater to children with special needs or can calm your child when they have sensory overload.

Theme Park Accommodations:

Most theme parks have a guest services department you will want to go to first. Each park offers different programs and services, so it`s important to become familiar with their policies and procedures for children with sensory issues and special needs before you enter the park. Due to privacy laws, theme parks can't ask what your child's specific disorder or disability is, but you will want to share as much information as possible so they know how to cater to your specific needs. In addition, they may need to take a picture of your child to carry with them throughout the park.


• Disney Disability Card: Disney's Disability Access Card (DAC) replaced the Guest Assistance Card in 2013. At guest services, they will help you schedule rides and provide you with wait times for each ride before you head to your destination. If wait times are more than 10 minutes, they will give you a return time when the ride is less busy. Disney has positioned guest service kiosks throughout the park so you don't have to travel all the way back to the main entrance to schedule additional rides.
• Character Lines: If your child struggles to wait in really long lines, you can ask guest services if they have a cast member that would be willing to wait in line for you and hold your spot.
• Break Rooms: Guest services at Disneyland and at most other theme parks provide quiet rooms or break rooms for families to sneak away when their child is overly stimulated or experiences sensory overload.


• Guest Services will provide all he assistance you will need.
• Children with sensory issues and special needs can enter through the exit to access rides, however, Lagoon as an equal wait policy where you must wait in line with other crowds if you choose not to use the exit.
• Children are allowed to re-ride the rides as many times as they like.
• Children with special needs can be accompanied by a supervising companion if they are under 48 inches in height or if a parent cannot ride the ride.
• They provide wheel chairs and strollers for children who have trouble standing or walking for long periods of time.
• At security, there is a quiet break room where children and families can go in the case of sensory overload or if they get overly anxious.