Autism can't stop the magic!

Taking kids with autism and sensory processing disorders anywhere can be a challenge. We were concerned before our trip that our boys’ special needs would make the entire experience a nightmare. They don’t deal well with changes in routine, extreme heat, or crowds – all definite challenges at Disney World! I did my research, and learned about the Guest Assistance Card, which is available to guests with special needs, including autism spectrum disorders. The card allows you to bypass the lines, wait in a separate area if needed to avoid the crowds, and get any other assistance you need in order to make the experience magical.

To get the Guest Assistance Card, stop by the Guest Services office at the first theme park you visit. The card is good at all the parks for the duration of your stay. According to my research, a letter from the kids’ doctor or therapist isn’t strictly required but it’s a good idea to have one anyway. Autism is an invisible disability. Our kids look completely normal at first glance. If the Cast Member at Guest Services isn’t familiar with autism, my sensory seeker would look like just another hyper, excited kid. The Cast Members at Disney go out of their way to make sure that every guest has a wonderful experience, but they also have to make sure that guests do not take advantage. A note from the boys’ Occupational Therapist stating their specific sensory issues and the accommodations they need saves me the trouble of explaining it all to someone who may or may not have any background knowledge of autism or sensory processing disorder.

We were reluctant to ask for a Guest Assistance Card. We hoped we wouldn’t need it, and were worried that we would run into the one Cast Member who didn’t believe in sensory issues. We worried that other guests would assume we were taking advantage of the system just to avoid standing in line. We briefly discussed it just after walking through the gates at Magic Kingdom on our first morning, and decided to wait and see. In the end, because of the time we traveled and other strategies we used to make the experience easier on our sensory kids, we didn’t need the Guest Assistance Card.

On our next trip, I think we will probably get the card just in case. At the point we would need to use it, it’s too late to go get it. What do you think? Have you used the Guest Assistance Card – or have you avoided it?