Visiting Disneyland with Autism and Other Special Needs
Visiting the original Disneyland park with autism can indeed be magical! Don’t believe me? Well, let me convince you!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk where Walt Disney walked?
For die-hard Disney fans, going to Disneyland is about as close as one can get to fulfilling that dream. For those who live in Southern California and the West Coast, Disneyland represents their childhood days and happy multi-generational family memories.
Autism Strategies for Visiting Disneyland
Being a smaller, more intimate park than Walt Disney World, this park that “started it all” has some pros and cons of which individuals and families with autism should be made aware.
Their Disability Access Service (called “DAS” for short) is generally like the one for Walt Disney World but with some very notable differences in how to access return times.
Since I have not yet visited Disneyland in California myself, I asked a good friend about her experiences using the DAS at the original Disney park.
Here are 5 tips to help you meet the challenges of being at Disneyland with autism:
1. Be sure to get the DAS from Guest Relations when you first arrive.
The DAS allows autistic individuals and their guests (family or friends) to access certain attractions without waiting in incredibly long lines. The person with autism will be the designated DAS-holder.
Cast Members will NOT ask for evidence of a diagnosis (so no need to bring documentation). At Disneyland you can get it at City Hall or at the Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure.
- PERSONAL TIP #1: My friend experienced an incredibly frustrating long-line at Guest Relations in order to get the DAS. Some people have found it better to enter the park and register for the DAS at one of the Guest Relations kiosks found throughout the park. Or, get there early before the crowds.
2. Get a “return time” for the attraction you want to visit at one of the Guest Relations kiosks.
They are listed as “I” on the park maps. Tell a cast member what attraction you want to visit. That person will scan your ticket and provide a return time based on the current wait time at the attraction.
You can only get one DAS return time at a time.
- PERSONAL TIP #2: My friend found getting return times a good experience. The kiosk locations were pretty convenient and visible, although some seemed farther than others. Have a physical map or the Disneyland app on your phone to find those kiosks quickly.
3. Come to the Fast Pass or disabilities exit line when it’s time to ride.
What is nice about the DAS is that there is no “window” of time in which you have to come back or else lose it. If your child has anxiety about riding the attraction right away, there is no pressure to come back at a certain time.
- PERSONAL TIP #3: My friend suggested bringing a sunhat to provide shade while standing in the exit lines, as many are not shaded. Also, her daughter ended up refusing to ride many of the attractions for which she got a DAS return time. Cast members MAY let the others ride when the DAS-holder suddenly backs out if the entire party has scanned their tickets at the entrance already and walked the queue to get on the actual ride. Otherwise, you may need to use Rider Switch for attractions that the DAS-holder does not want to go on.
4. You can use the DAS in coordination with the Fast Pass system.
If there is a certain attraction that you know your autistic loved one will want to go on again and again, consider getting Fast Pass tickets for the entire party as well as a DAS return time. Try to coordinate the return time within the Fast Pass return time “window”.
- PERSONAL TIP #4: My friend did not get the Max Pass as she didn’t think it was necessary to buy in addition to using the free Fast Passes AND the DAS. If you want the Photo Pass, the ability to get Fast Pass times through your phone, and pre-order your meals, then it would be a good idea to purchase the Max Pass for these benefits.
5. Try to avoid the most crowded days and times.
The pro about Disneyland is its small size. The con about Disneyland is…its small size. Some days at Disneyland and California Adventure are busier than others, particularly around the holidays and weekends.
Unlike the Florida parks, the California parks are considered part of the Anaheim/LA “neighborhood”. Many locals are annual pass-holders who come to the parks just for a few hours.
This makes for very crowded conditions and a potential sensory problem for those on the spectrum.
- PERSONAL TIP #5: My friend says the evenings became intensely crowded when locals got off work to watch the fireworks. Losing a child in those crowds can become a parent’s worst nightmare. Avoid the “bottleneck” areas of the parks when crowds pick up. Make sure everyone has identification on them in case someone is missing. Use a GPS tracker for your autistic loved one if she or he is a runner.
Great Things to be Found at Disneyland for Families with Autism
Since Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure are only walking distance from one another, it makes park-hopping a good experience.
If your autistic loved one has a set plan to ride certain attractions of both parks in one day, this would be a beneficial ticket option. Once you have the DAS, you can use it at both parks for up to 60 days.
The DAS is often a life-saver for some people, for others a very nice perk. Be sure to rely on cast members for help in finding good locations for sensory breaks or providing the right accommodations for your autistic loved one besides the DAS.
I also recommend you download—before your trip—the Guide for Cognitive Disabilities (including ASD) as well the Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities found here.
Disneyland’s DAS has helped many guests, including my friend and her family, create happy and unforgettable memories. Visiting Disneyland with autism doesn’t have to be a challenge but a magical experience!
I’m sure it’s something Walt would be very proud of!
For a quote or more information about a Disneyland vacation, request a consultation through this link.