Amusement Park Vacations With Special Needs Children

Amusement Park Vacations With Special Needs Children

Many families take their vacations in August right before school starts. You may be planning an amusement park vacation to take with your child. Whether it is a day trip to a semi-local park like Carowinds or Dollywood, or an extended, multi-day/night vacation to places like Disney World, here are a few tips to make sure it is a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Do your research and plan ahead.

You know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, so choose a park accordingly. If he loves movement and physical activity, choose a destination with more walking and movement oriented attractions. If he prefers to sit and observe, choose a park with a lot of shows and educational attractions. The same goes for his weaknesses and avoidances. Check out the websites for your top choices and see what they have to offer that he would enjoy. Have him help you choose and if he likes structure and schedules print out a park map with the locations and times of the attractions and shows so he can help “plan” your day. Knowing ahead of time what to expect and look forward to can help him be better prepared for the change in his regular routine.

Large crowds and loud noise are very common during the summer months and is important to keep in mind when planning the date of your visit. If your child gets overwhelmed easily, try planning for a midweek trip or waiting until the off season to visit, when crowds are often smaller. Also make sure to bring her a pair of noise reducing headphones or earplugs which will help if the noise starts to get too much.

Most amusement parks have “disability card” that allows you and your child special accommodations such as a shorter line wait time or special seats during a show. Each park is different so contact the park directly or visit the guest relations desk once you get to the park for details. Though very few require proof of a disability, it may be good to get his doctor or therapist to compose a letter with his diagnosis before you go. It’s better to be safe than sorry in case you need it.

Having your child get lost is obviously not on your to do list. However, it is a very common occurrence in a place like an amusement park, so it is best to be prepared. Have your whole party dress in the same bright color so it will be easier to spot them a crowd. If she is young or non-verbal consider putting a laminated card with your contact information in her pocket. You can also give your child a temporary and waterproof tattoo by writing your information on her arm with a fine-tip sharpie and paint over it with liquid bandaid.The most important piece of information is your phone number but you may want to include your name, her name, and/or any important medical information as well.


The summer months are peak season for most amusement parks and that means long lines and wait times for their attractions. Standing in a line is boring and not on anyone’s “top things to do” list. Bring small toys or snacks to keep your child entertained while waiting. Small pocket size dolls or cars are perfect and help encourage imaginative play while easily fitting in his pocket when it is time to board the ride.

Being organized but flexible is important, as is making sure you don’t sweat the small stuff. Things are probably not going to go exactly as planned and that it ok. The most important goal of a trip to an amusement park with a child who has special needs is to have fun and make memories.

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Amusement Park Vacations With Special Needs Children
Shandy Marso, Contributor

Carolina Pediatric Therapy © August 2014

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