Mommy Frog's Note: With a little help from my niece, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we frogs have been learning more and more about the logistics of traveling with someone who has a disability. We are very hoppy to announce we'll be doing more coverage of traveling with disabilities in the coming weeks and months, so that we can pass along what we've learned. And hopefully learn from your experiences too! We will be tackling the sensory challenges while highlighting the positives of having a child with a high IQ and deep interests. Plus we will look at how travel can help fulfill those needs. Have a topic you'd like more information about? Drop us a line in comments below!
It can happen in a moment — your family climbs out of the teacup, viking ship or Tower of Terror elevator, and the next thing you know, you’re missing one of the froglets. Thankfully, this scary situation usually resolves in seconds; you locate your little one and move on to your next attraction.
In some cases, though, the crowds and distractions in the theme park can lead to a longer and more panic-inducing separation. If your little tadpole (or your grown-up, special needs child) wanders, then taking some additional precautions before you arrive at the theme parks at all can help you remain together. This post will help walk you through what to do if you special needs child is lost at Disney World.
Top Places Kids Go Missing in Disney World
Kids can get distracted and go missing anywhere, but these areas are particularly likely to separate your party:
- During parades
- While exiting a show or ride with large numbers of guests
- In the area around Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, all princesses look alike and this area is packed with them!
- In and around elevators
- At bathrooms with multiple exits into different lands
Start with Prevention
Thankfully, the Disney theme parks have established protocols for swiftly locating missing children and reuniting families in a hurry. Before you ever head to the park, check out these frogtastic tips for sticking together and finding your child in a hurry if you need to. While most kids can be successfully reunited in minutes, what happens if your child with autism or a similar condition has wandered?
In many cases, this child may be unable to assist in the search for his or her parents and could experience increased anxiety or panic when separated. The details below will help you get reunited swiftly and minimize the discomfort your child experiences while you are separated.
- Make sure all family members know to stick together and remind everyone on the monorail, boat or bus to the theme parks. Disney World offers plenty of tempting distractions, so a mini review on sticking together can go a long way toward a successful, worry-free day.
- Practice social stories and “what to do if you are lost” drills at home. Taking some time to read, roleplay and plan can highlight both the reasons to stay together and the safe things to do if you are lost.
- Consider matching shirts and choose a “color of the day” for each day of your vacation. You’ll know to look for the bright orange, red or blue shirt and be able to swiftly spot your child in a crowd.
- Take a family photo each morning of your trip. Not only does this make a great memento, you can see at a glance what your child was wearing and if needed, share the image with Disney World cast members to aid in recovering a child who has gone missing.
- Choose a designated meeting space. Cinderella’s Castle, Spaceship Earth and other iconic locations may sound like good ideas, but these have massive footprints and a huge surface area. You could end up looking on one side, while your missing child waits patiently on the other. Instead, opt for something memorable. A favorite shop, ride entrance or smaller landmark is often a better choice for kids than a massive structure.
- Take steps to prevent wandering and elopement, a common problem for children with autism.
What to Do if Your Special Needs Child Is Lost at Disney World
The second you notice one of your froglets is missing, take a quick moment and scan the area. In some cases, he or she could be standing behind a planter, merchandise rack or tall adult. If you don’t see him or her in the immediate vicinity, head to the closest attraction to speak with a cast member. Any cast member can help launch your search. The faster the Disney team knows your child is missing, the better equipped they will be to help you!
Let the cast member know your child is missing and that their special needs could make it difficult for them to relay key information and details on their own.
If possible, leave one family member in the last location your child was seen; he could return to this area, expecting your group to be there.
Search the area or land you are in, noting bathrooms, ride and restaurant waiting areas and shops. Be aware that many restrooms, including those in Magic Kingdom, have multiple exits. It is possible to enter a restroom in Adventureland and come out in Frontierland. This is a very common scenario when parties are separated in the parks!
Know that as you are looking, cast members are too. In some cases, the Disney World team identifies a lost child before the parents realize the little one is missing.
Get the Inside Scoop: What Happens When a Cast Member Finds a Child at Disney World?
We had a chance to spend some time with one of Disney World’s expert VIP tour guides on a recent trip, and she shared some insights into the way lost children are reunited with their parents. She filled us in on the toadally unique approach Disney World takes to missing children that are “found” by cast members.
In some cases, the missing child lets a cast member know he is lost or has been separated from his parents. When this happens, the cast member who first made contact becomes that child’s constant companion until he is reunited. This allows for a sense of security and creates a consistent presence for the child.
When your child is found, the park team will swing into action; this includes scanning your child’s Magic Band, asking your child for your contact details and looking for obvious signs of identification. For kids who are unable to speak for themselves, an ID bracelet, card or other form of contact information can help with this part of the process.
Cast members will then track you down so you can be reunited. Since parents are usually alert and actively seeking their missing kids by this point, families are generally reunited very quickly. While you will not hear public announcements, cast members throughout the park will be alerted to the search.
While they wait for their “lost parents,” kids are transported to a nearby secure location and offered some fun activities. According to our guide, these can include crafts, character visits and other distractions as the parents are tracked down.
In many cases, by the time the parent reaches out to a cast member, the child has done so also, and is already safe and secure. If you have been separated, be prepared to show ID to reclaim your missing froglet.
Special Safety Precautions for Children with Autism and Other Disabilities
While any child can become lost, a child with a cognitive disability or one that impacts the ability to communicate will have a harder time relaying his own information to the cast members helping them. Taking a few precautions can help ensure your group is reunited quickly if your child is lost:
- Use a shoe tag or lanyard to hold contact details, just in case. If your child loves Disney pins, then a card with your information can be slipped into the lanyard holder, just in case.
- Temporary tattoos can also be used to ensure your child has contact information, even if he is not able to relay details verbally. You can print out your own or order them, then apply to an arm (to be covered by a sleeve but used if needed). Unlike a lanyard, tag or backpack, a tattoo can’t be lost and won’t come off easily.
- If you use the Disability Access Services (DAS) card, then relay this to the team helping you. Your child’s photo was taken when you signed up and his last known location (the last time his Magic Band was scanned) should be recorded as well.
Fortunately, families are usually reunited in minutes, even if the missing child has trouble relaying his own details. Knowing how the process works can help give you peace of mind as you search and ensures you and your child are back together as soon as possible.
Do you have any questions about preventing a child from getting lost at Disney World? Share them in comments below!