Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Special Needs Friendly Vacations

Cinderella's Castle, Disneyworld
As any parent of a special needs child knows, taking a vacation can be a recipe for disaster. The two issues that most impact our ability to enjoy our time out and about as a family are ADHD and Sensory Integration Disorder. The best way I can explain our son's sensory issue to others is this:

Imagine that you are driving with the windows down and the music blaring at just the right level to sing along above the sound of the wind. You park in front of your house and go inside for the night. Then the next day you get into your car turning the key in the ignition and that music now seems extremely loud. The sound level hasn't changed and your ears have not changed, it's your perception that has changed. People with sensory issues don't have an impairment with their senses, it's how the brain perceives the input.

So why on earth would we take a child like this to Disney World? This past year was actually our third visit, but the first time we stayed at Disney's Caribbean Beach resort. It worked well for us since we were able to explore the parks each day based on how crowded the park was, then we could return to the park again in the evening or just relax by one of the seven resort pools.

One benefit we took advantage of was a "handicap pass." We took our son's medical records to guest services at the first park of our stay and were issued a pass that allowed us to skip ahead of the long lines for our entire stay. Instead of waiting the 1 to 2 hours, we were able to enter by way of the FastPass or handicap gate—cutting our wait time to just minutes in most cases. This pass works at all the theme parks, however it is not accepted at the waterparks.

After a friend had explained this benefit I checked other parks and found that Paramount's Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens both offer this type of pass. So, if you are planning a vacation to a theme park and have a family member with health issues, you might want to contact the theme park in advance to see if they have a program similiar to these. One of the parks I contacted even offered the handicap ticket and one caregiver's ticket at half price. I think it's wonderful that parks are recognizing that not all "handicaps" are visible at first glance.


Anonymous said...

I was surprised to read that you were able to enjoy a trip to Disney World. I always suffer from sensory overload after a few hours at the themed parks and I don't have a sensory condition. We are planning a trip with our grandchildren soon and I was thinking that we would go to the park for a few hours and then back to the hotel to wind down and then back in the evening to avoid the kids from the sensory overload that I feel. Thanks for talking about this.
Rita in Olympia

Richard D said...

Hi Rita - This year when we stayed at the Disney resort, we discovered a whole new level of theme park enjoyment. We were able to come and go freely between our cottage and the park, so we never felt like we had to stay in any one place past our son's capability to do so. It provided a tremendous sense of freedom that we're not typically used to. I think your plan is a good one.