We recently took our family to Disneyland, which was quite a unique experience, since we were traveling with our adult disabled son, Kyle, who has Down syndrome and is mostly confined to a wheelchair. He lives at home with us, and Disney was a wonderful experience for him. It was for us, too…but it was exhausting!

Going to Disneyland is never without its need for planning, but if you’re traveling with someone who has special needs, it’s even more crucial to plan ahead. In addition to talking to customer support at Disney several times prior to arriving, we also mapped out how to approach our visit.

Unless you can afford to stay on Disney property at a Disney hotel (we could not), you should plan to arrive when or before the park opens. Because Kyle is wheelchair bound, we have a disabled parking tag. This was very useful at Disneyland, where you can spend a good hour just getting from the parking lot to the park. For the disabled, there is priority parking and special shuttle vans that allow the person in the wheelchair to remain safely in the chair while being delivered to the park.

Once you arrive at the park, your first stop should be Guest Relations to discuss your specific needs with the staff. ¬†While Disney no longer allows special needs guests to skip lines because of the abuse of that service by able guests (who either bring someone in a wheelchair who doesn’t need it or otherwise falsely represent their need), they do offer, for most rides, something similar to a FastPass for special needs guests so that they do not have to wait in the line as well as alternate lines for wheelchair guests where needed to make it easier to load them onto the ride or transfer them from the chair to the ride.

The Disability Access Pass (DAS) is useful not only for mobility-based needs but for other special needs as well. Our other son has Asperger’s, and the DAS pass allowed us to forgo the long waits in crowds that might otherwise have triggered his overwhelm. We would simply obtain a DAS, go find something else to do, and come back at our appointed time for the ride.

Disneyland does everything they can to make the experience positive for every guest, and we were thrilled with what we were able to do for our kids. It’s worth planning ahead and being flexible about what you will be able to accomplish while there.

Have you taken special needs family members to Disneyland? What was your experience like?