Treatment of Special Needs Guests at Disney World Unparalleled

Last month, we reported about an incident that occurred at Disney’s Hollywood Studios involving some bullies and a child with autism.  The incident itself was unfortunate, but Disney’s poor handling of the situation afterwards created a lot of anger on message forums and blogs (including our own), with some parents threatening that they would not be returning to Disney in the future.

In fairness, I have decided to post a recap of our recent trip to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the most popular of Disney’s four major theme parks in Florida.

Our family, which includes my 9-year-old son with autism, packed our bags and headed to Orlando.  Immediately upon arriving at the Magic Kingdom, we visited Guest Services and let them know about our son’s condition.  They were extremely accommodating and provided us with a Guest Assistance Card.  This is a must-have for families of children with autism who are visiting any of the Disney World parks.  It allows your child and up to five other guests to access the "FastPass" areas, by-passing many of the long lines in the process.  However, be prepared to show documentation from a doctor about your child’s condition.  Additionally, the card does not guarantee your party will skip every line in the park — it only provides the opportunity when available.  On some of the more popular attractions, there is still a wait, but nothing near what you would experience from normal lines.

However, the good news did not last for long.  Ten minutes after entering the park, our son complained that he felt sick and became very nauseous.  We had planned this trip for several months, only to have him get sick almost immediately after entering the park.  As a parent of a child with autism, nothing is surprising anymore — after these many years, we have learned to just roll with the punches.

A wheelchair was summoned and I took our son over to the First Aid Station, which is an infirmary located within the park.  The nurses there were amazing and incredibly friendly and caring.  They took my son in with no wait time, laid him down on one of the many sickbeds and took very good care of him.  I have had my share of emergency room visits over the years and the treatment we received today was very different than what we are used to.

After about thirty-minutes of resting, my son said he felt better and we were back enjoying the park after some Motrin was given to reduce a mild fever.

The day went as well as could be expected, but was eventually cut short after the medicine wore off and the fever returned.  

The thing that really stood out for me was how accommodating Disney was not only after learning of our son’s autism, but also after he became sick.  I found out first-hand that Disney’s treatment of special needs guests is unparalleled to what most are accustomed to in the "real world."

We’re hoping to make it to Epcot tomorrow, but with our son’s sickness, we may have to cut our vacation short and return another time.  Regardless of when that is, it’s comforting to know that my son and the rest of the family will be in good hands should any health or autism-related issues arise during our visit.

9 Responses to Treatment of Special Needs Guests at Disney World Unparalleled

  1. Chris Flannery says:

    My experience at WDW with my son has been almost uniformly positive. The only rude behavior I’ve encountered has been from other guests. Disney cast members treat my son as a valued guest and not as a problem they have to deal with. Because of meds, I always make sure to keep my son (and the rest of us) hydrated when we are in the parks; I’ve found that I can get nauseous if I get dehydrated.

  2. Tim Michael says:

    We’ve always had superior service and lots of help at Disney parks. We only started using a GAC about 2 years ago, though, when we saw some other folks using one. We’ve been able to do a lot more things, at our own pace, since then.

  3. Susan Manzi says:

    Disney World is very accomodating for our family. We have triplets and grandparents (luckily) always come along to support us. One of our triplets has Asperger’s and we get the special guest pass that helps keep the Magic in Magic Kingdom for our whole family! Bravo Disney! I have only had one cast member treat us with disrespct, implying we were trying to get away with not waiting. We let it go as a poor example of a Disney employee. Sea World is not so accomodating but hopefully it will change if more parents explain what they need for their child to enjoy the park.

  4. We’ve visited Disneyland twice with our son who has autism, and we’ve had wonderful experiences. The Guest Assistance Pass is a lifesaver, for sure.

  5. We recently took our family – which includes one son with Aspergers and one with Autism – to Disney World and it was an amazing experience. The biggest difference for us was timing. We were able to go during one of the slowest weeks of the year, so we never even needed a Fast Pass or GAC. The longest line anywhere was about 20 minutes. Every single employee we encountered was pleasant, and took the time to make sure our children could go at their own pace. Had we gone at a more crowded time, I don’t know if that would have happened.

  6. Sarah says:

    I am just looking into taking our son in the next couple years and I apprciate these tips!

  7. Susan says:

    I’m so happy to hear about this! And read real experiences from other parents. We just found out today our son who is 3 and half, most likely has Aspergers (PDD for now). The social worker on his evaluation team told us to get the special assistance card. It never occured to me this was possible and hopefully this trip to Disney won’t be as stressful as our last when we didn’t understand our son had sensory issues!!!

  8. Sarah says:

    I went to Disneyland, and was given a very different treatment. We took two children one with Autism and one with mild turetts. We did go and get the pass to skip the lines but in the line for Space Mountain one of the boys started to have a small fit, nothing out of the ordinary for a small child, in fact concidering his condition it was a mild brief (30 seconds max) of a few screams and stomping of the foot. We were actually asked to leave the line until he could as the cast member said “get under control and behave around the other guests” I was outragged and notified the employee of the conditions of the boys to which he called another employee supervisor over and we were told “the medical condition of guest is not our responsibility, and until he is able to stop screaming he can’t enter the ride” I have not written two letters as well and four e-mails finally being answered “unless you have your original tickets we can not refund you” excuse me. I just spent over 1500.00 staying at your hotel and buying tickets which I didn’t keep, who keeps those little stubs anyways and I was told there was nothing that they could do. I of course asked why they couldn’t look up a package bought on thier website, we stayed at the hotel even, and they can’t find our package or our travel dates, even though I still had my key with the dates and my name on the key. It truely amazes me that they are so careless at Disneyland. Maybe disneyworld is a better experience although never again will our foundation spend money to take anyone there or to disneyland again.

  9. Brittni Tigue says:

    Food can be outrageously expensive at Walt Disney World and sometimes, of poor quality. There are also great things with Disney World, like a great way to get rejuvenated and re-energized for the next busy day is to take advantage of one of the luxurious spas that are located at the deluxe resorts from Walt Disney World. Those are actually the only products of his prodigious and rich creativity.:”

    Au revoir

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  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
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