Disneyland Tip #2 – the special-needs child

As you regular readers know (and welcome to those of you who are checking in over here via Matthew! I will be blogging about my out-of-computer meeting with him very soon!), Tad is not autistic, and he is not mentally retarded (though he may act like it sometimes). He is, though, socially delayed and has some cognitive issues, not to mention our ongoing speech therapy saga. (Update: In June of 2010, Tad was officially diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, just two months shy of his fifth birthday.)

Tad will turn three next month, and as of right now he has about 100 words and talks like an 18 month old.

He is also a bundle of kinetic energy that never rests, not even when he sleeps. He is constantly rolling into the wall while he is in bed, thrashing about while he is asleep.

So, there were a lot of factors that made me nervous about taking him to Disneyland. We knew we were taking the stroller with us, because even though we are making an effort to make him walk, crowd control is always an issue there, especially over a holiday. Add to that his speech delay – if he was lost, he wouldn’t even be able to tell anyone his own name or age – and it made me very resolute in keeping a very tight rein on him. As Resiss said, “I can just see it now – I’ll turn on the evening news and there will be a story about ‘Toddler boy jumps into Rivers of America at Disneyland’ and I won’t even have to watch it. I’ll just know it’s Tad.”

Or, as Grandma said, “Have fun on your trip – and keep an eye on that boy.”

So, we did. But even though we had four adults watching him, and we made sure that he got time out of the stroller, the single greatest asset that we had was the Guest Assistance Pass.

I blogged about this before our trip – one of the moms at my Tuesday morning prayer group is a former special ed teacher, and told me about this pass that allowed special-needs children to bypass lines in Disneyland. After a little online investigation, I packed up some of Tad’s paperwork that details his diagnosis, along with the IEP front sheet from the school district that stated that he was being accepted for special ed preschool this coming fall. I didn’t know if that would be enough, but nothing I had seen told me exactly what to bring, and probably for good reason. Disneyland does not advertise this pass at all on their website – probably to keep people from acquiring them like a wheelchair in order to skip the lines on rides. It is really intended to signal the cast members of Disneyland that you really do need their consideration. I even saw kids in wheelchairs that had these guest assistance passes.

On our first day in Disneyland, I took Tad with me to City Hall on Main Street – home of Disneyland Park Guest Relations. I had his paperwork out as I approached the desk and asked about the pass. The cast member asked me why Tad needed the pass. I listed off his delays and then said, “I have some paperwork here…”

She waved me off. “I don’t need to see that. I need to know, from you, why he needs this.”

I sighed. “He is a ball of energy, and sometimes he becomes wild. If I have to remove him from his stroller and wait in lines, he is not going to enjoy this trip and all, and may become a real problem to others in lines if he darts away from us.”

“You know that this won’t let you skip over all the lines,” she warned me.

“Even if we can just wait where he’s not going to be a bother to anyone else and he has some room to move around, it will be worth it,” I assured her.

She pulled out the pass. “What’s his name and how many are in your party?”

Wow. Just like that, it was a done deal. Meanwhile, Tad had squirreled away and was on the Guest Services phone, chattering into it. “I’d grab that if I were you,” the cast member told me. “He might be making new reservations for you.”

I grabbed Tad and his pass, thanked the nice lady profusely, and then met up with the Webmaster, Ane, Nana and Papa to show them the pass.

When the cast member told me that you would still have to wait in lines, it is true. But you are waiting in the handicapped/wheelchair lines, which are usually at the exit to the ride. And I think the longest we waited for a ride with Tad was 15 minutes at Pirates of the Caribbean. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride line was easily 90 minutes long the first time we went on it – sometimes it was as long as 3 hours. With Tad’s pass, we waited all of five minutes.

Because of the pass, we were able to take Tad on more rides, which made things much easier for us in planning our days. It also meant that Tad was spending his time having fun, not constantly strapped into his stroller as a means of restraining him.

Sometimes, we didn’t have to use the pass at all, especially at “a bug’s land” in California Adventure, where the rides are all geared for young children and there really weren’t any lines. When the line was short, we didn’t bother with the pass. But because of the pass, we were able to go on Nemo three times, the brand-new Toy Story Midway Mania ride twice, Peter Pan’s Flight twice, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters twice, and go on most of the other rides that Tad was able to get on without much of a wait. The Webmaster and I still had to stand in line for the rides we couldn’t take the kids on (Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror, and California Screamin’, for example), and Ane had to wait (albeit in very short lines because of the times of day we went) in line at Star Tours twice. Still, it was nothing compared to what having that pass did for us – and Tad.

I felt slightly guilty using it, mostly because Tad doesn’t have any outward behavior that really pegs him as a “disabled” child. And cast members are not allowed to ask why you have the pass – only if the person the pass is for is with your party. I knew that it was making my life a whole lot easier on this trip. I also knew that if Tad were talking and behaving like an almost-three-year-old, I would have given up that pass in a heartbeat.

I was talking about it with my friend Aimee yesterday, when she called to ask about the trip and arranging play time with the kids. She wanted to know if I was able to get the pass, and I told her yes, but that I’d felt a little guilty using it. “Guilty??” she said. “After all that you’ve been through with Tad, I think you should consider it a reward of some kind that you were able to get that pass!”

So, I will. The pass made Tad’s vacation possible, and made mine and the Webmaster’s lives much easier. He got a much better vacation than I had hoped for. Thank you, Disneyland, for helping us out. And I completely recommend it to any special-needs family. It just makes Disneyland that much more of a friendly place for us to go.

And apparently, if you’ve been granted the pass once, if you return and bring your old pass with you, there is a much better chance you will be given a new pass. I will remember that for next time – but still, I’m kind of hoping that when there is a next time, Tad will be able to whine loudly about the lines along with his sister, because he won’t need the pass anymore.

6 Responses to “Disneyland Tip #2 – the special-needs child”

  1. Ressis
    July 15th, 2008 07:39

    I’m glad it went well with Tad for the trip. But for the record, I thought I said he would jump into the river at Storybook Land, not the Rivers of America. Either way, I’m glad he didn’t jump into any water, save the pool, while you were there.

  2. kimberly ross
    March 23rd, 2010 19:30

    I am so glad to be able to read this. We are planning a trip to Disney soon and have not been able to get information on the availability of a pass. When I called Disney all they were able to tell me is that I should stop in at City Hall on the way into the park. They would not share what was available in the way of help or if there was really anything available. My daughter has Apsergers syndrome and waiting in long lines with lots of busyness and lot of stimulation will add up quick into an overload for her. She is one of 4 children and I want her and her sisters to all be able to enjoy our trip to Disneyland. I too have tossed around the “guilt” of using such a pass but as I have thought it through I realize that in any given 24 hour period I work hard to raise up this young lady of mine and that in the equal end of things it really all evens out. If only other families could understand that in a special needs family situation the whole family works hard to keep up with all that goes on. And maybe even for the parents as well as the kids once in a while a slight bit of leadway or a break from something hard (like a long wait in line) is nice for the family.
    Again I appreciate being able to read that this pass is a possibility. We leave in 3 weeks and look forward to a smooth trip with as few melt downs as possible.

  3. Bree
    April 3rd, 2011 15:13

    This is so helpful! We just took our family, including our special son in a wheelchair, to Disneyland and I blogged about the accommodations! Thank you!


  4. B
    December 27th, 2011 21:22

    I almost cried reading this. My 4 year old doesn’t have an official diagnosis, but has been in speech and occupational therapy for 2 years and attends special ed preschool. We want to take our kids to Disney, but J’s response to all the stimulation concerns me. It’s nice to know that Disney is willing to help ALL kinds of kids have a good experience at the happiest place on earth.

  5. Kannan
    April 16th, 2012 17:40

    I am from India and we are planning a short trip with my 5 year old daughter who is autistic. Your recommendations are very helpful and I hope that we get the special pass when we land at Disneyland in Anaheim.
    Since the diagnosis and documentation is quite customized to India, I hope that they would understand that it is still a special child. Thanks once again.

  6. L wells
    March 8th, 2013 21:10

    Hiya !
    Tomorrow morning we embark on our second Disneyland adventure with 6 year old twins! My son has Down Syndrome and PDD- NOS. Lines are a nightmare! We went for my twins bday in January and I can tell everyone… It was wonderful! The pass you get at City Hall made all the lines easy….come back in 15 minutes….wait just a second .. I of course had 4 adults and 2 kids ratio.. But tomorrow I am taking the twins by myself. Disneyland employees are so amazing…they never question you , they never make you feel guilty or bad. They didn’t care that my son needed to sit up high on things or hang out with the driver. ( as long as it was safe).
    The website sucks for answers… Go to city hall, speak to the awesome people there… Enjoy your day!