California Vacations for Special Needs Families

California Vacations

For children with special needs, finding the right vacation destination is a challenge. This is particularly true for children with physical handicaps, which may prevent them from accessing areas the rest of the family would like to visit. The Americans with Disabilities Act helps, but many popular destinations still remain out of reach for children with special needs. However, there are a few popular California locations that can offer fun and safety for the whole family:

1. Legoland

Legoland is a great destination for families with children under eleven years old. While they do offer some rollercoasters, many of their attractions are education-based. Legoland’s park system offers a full guide for guests with special needs. Thoroughly review this guide prior to the trip to help you plan a visit that maximizes everyone’s enjoyment.

Remember to read each ride’s description carefully. Some attractions have additional accessibility requirements. Just because a ride is wheelchair-accessible, does not mean it will be sufficient for your individual child. Luckily, Legoland offers diverse attractions including an aquarium.

2. Silver Strand State Beach

Located just outside Coronado near San Diego, Silver Strand State Beach has been modified to be highly accessible, especially for individuals with wheelchairs. In addition to restrooms, a plaza, and parking regions that are all handicap friendly, this beach offers a number of sand-compatible wheelchairs and mats that ensures access even when someone’s normal wheelchair wouldn’t let them get through.

The park also allows families to drop off family members with special needs closer to the bay, making it that much easier for everyone to enjoy a day at the beach. If you’re looking for a little sun and sand on your next vacation, this beach is definitely worth considering.

3. Disneyland

When most people think of Disneyland, they think of its exotic attractions and thrilling rides — many of which do have certain physical requirements. What many people don’t realize is just how extensive guest services for visitors with disabilities are. This doesn’t just apply to physical needs, either. Disneyland has specific plans in place to help visitors with neurological and emotional issues feel happy and welcomed.

Check in with guest services when you first get to the park and Disneyland employees will give you a schedule to skip through to the front of the line. As long as you bring a note from a doctor, you can have a Fast Pass to every ride throughout the day.

The Golden Rule: Double Check Everything

The locations listed above are all highly accessible, but one thing to remember is that it’s impossible for any location to predict every combination of disabilities someone might have. Companies do their best, but if your child’s needs aren’t as straightforward as needing a ramp, then it’s vital that you repeatedly check every location you plan on taking your child to visit.

Remember, most locations will not make exceptions if a child’s disabilities fall outside of what that area was designed to handle. This is a safety issue. There are usually laws and local regulations that specifically prohibit them from giving exceptions in most circumstances, and knowing whether or not your child will be permitted into a given area before you go is the best way of avoiding problems.

If your child is going on a vacation as part of a school trip, the school may be required to ensure access to at least some of the activities. Don’t hesitate to ask them about how they plan to accommodate your child, and if their answer is not satisfactory, ask for advice. Every child deserves the best educational opportunities, regardless of what activities the school is doing.

Public vs. Private School: Special Education

Public vs. Private School

One of the most important choices a parent can make is where their child is going to get an education, because that will have an impact on the rest of their life. Children with special needs have an even harder choice, because public and private schools are not similar in how they provide additional services. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two types of schools and how they might affect your family.

Public Schools

The main requirements for public schools to provide services to students with special needs are found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the most notable points are as follows:

  • The law requires schools to evaluate all students who are suspected of having disabilities. This applies even to students who are in private school or being homeschooled. If you believe the child has a disability, you are almost certainly eligible for an examination paid for and conducted by the public school district. This will determine which services a special needs child is or is not eligible for.
  • If the child is found eligible for special services, the school must create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is widely regarded as the single most important document in the entire special education process because it declares what services a child must be given, how often the school must give them, and other critical details. If something is not on the IEP, the school may not be required to provide it. You may wish to have a Special Needs Advocate when this plan is being made. They can help ensure that you understand the details of the plan and that it adequately supports the needs of your child.
  • Public schools typically offer the greatest selection of services, most of which are paid for by money set aside for special education.
  • Public schools tend to be larger than private schools. This offers a more social environment, more opportunities to meet new people, and larger average class sizes. This does not mean that it’s harder for a special needs child to get the support they need. If it’s on their IEP, you can expect that they’ll receive it and will have significant legal standing in the event of a dispute over services not being provided.

Throughout this process, it’s important to remember that school districts are often required to support hundreds or thousands of students with complex individual needs, and their budget for doing so is limited.

Private Schools

Private schools follow different rules when it comes to helping children that have special needs.

If the local public school doesn’t have the resources to support the needs of a given child, that child can be offered an Out-of-District Placement. When this happens, that school will receive a certain amount of public funding. This is known as Equitable Services, and usually follows a document known as a Services Plan (which is much like an IEP, but for private schools) to determine how it’s spent.

However, both Equitable Services and Service Plans tend to be less comprehensive than what’s available at a public school. Depending on the amount of funding available, private schools may not be able to offer as many services, especially if those services aren’t directly required by the Services Plan. This does not mean that private schools are inherently worse for students with special needs. There are quite a few private schools that exist specifically to help children in these situations, and they may actually be better than a public school.

In short, it’s best to evaluate private schools on an individual basis to determine whether or not they’re a good fit for your child’s unique needs.

Spring Break Tips for Special Needs Families

spring break tips

Spring Break is one of the most exciting times of the year for kids — but for children with special needs, it can be a bit harder to find activities they’ll truly be able to enjoy. When it’s time to take a break from school, what are ways children with special needs can effectively use their time off? Here are some tips for making the whole family’s life a little easier:

1. Tidy Up The House

Spring Break is a good time for Spring Cleaning – especially if the last few months have been a little too hectic to make sure that things get cleaned up. Children with special needs tend to do best when there’s only a minimal amount of clutter in their life, so see if you can spend a day getting rid of any clutter that’s accumulated.

Here are a few tips for cutting through the mess. If you haven’t touched it in the last five years and it’s not obviously important, it’s probably safe to get rid of it!

This is also a good time to teach your child how to help keep their environment clean. Children with special needs often tend to collect small items that only interest them for a moment, and a good cleaning session can help them learn to break the habit.

2. Go To A Museum

Museums are a great place to support a child’s education – especially children’s museums, which tend to be a little more hands-on than places they’re used to visiting. Try to support the child’s hobbies and interests when deciding on a place to go. For example, if they really love animals, then seeing some kind of animal exhibit can make for a fantastic experience.

Be sure to check with the museum about any support services they offer. Many larger institutions have sign language interpreters, alternate access routes, recordings that describe exhibits, and other features that can help children with special needs enjoy their experience.

3. Send Them To Camp

You need a break, too. Raising a child with special needs is hard, and if you never have a chance to relax and unwind a little, you’re just going to stress yourself out. Try sending the child to a spring break camp – many exist specifically to help special needs children improve their skills. Be sure to check for reviews about the camp before you send your child out, just to be absolutely sure they’ll get the help you’re paying for.

4. Go Swimming

It’s hard to overstate just how much kids in general tend to enjoy swimming, but children with special needs tend to enjoy it more than most. As noted by Modern Mom in a discussion about swimming and autism, there’s something inherently soothing about being underwater. It cuts down on all the senses that are distracting them, it lets them float with no real pressure anywhere on their body, and in general it’s quite relaxing overall.

Going to the pool gives children a chance to truly relax and stabilize themselves–and that makes it one of the best things to do in the middle of spring break!

5. Keep the Routine

Children with special needs often react poorly to change. As such, giving them the same wakeup time, the same sort of lunches, and the same overall schedule (work in the morning, relaxation in the afternoon) can help keep them focused and ensure that spring break is easier for everyone.

Common Core and Special Education

Common Core

The Common Core learning standards, a series of educational goals first created in 2009, are designed to help ensure that all children are able to meet the same high standards of education. While the basic goal of these standards is admirable, they do not make allowance for the unique learning challenges of children with special needs. This isn’t surprising, since no special education experts were involved in their creation and a one-size-fits-all approach is usually the worst way to help children with special needs.

The Problem With Common Core Standards

According to the California Department of Education, 88% of students in the state with special needs failed to meet the newest Common Core standards in English, while 91% failed to meet the standards in math. While the exact data for each student hasn’t been provided by the state, it’s not unreasonable to assume that those who did pass were probably the special needs students with the fewest learning difficulties.

It is important to remember that not all students with special needs are below their peers in terms of achievement. Some are keeping pace, and a few are even ahead of their classmates. Special Needs does not refer to a child’s intelligence or ability to succeed, but to how much accommodation and extra support they typically need.

Something is clearly wrong when nine out of ten students are unable to achieve a mandated goal. Again, rigorous standards by themselves are not a bad thing. Students generally should be challenged to reach their full potential.

At the same time, however, students should only be assigned a goal that they have a realistic possibility of achieving and that teachers have enough time to help them reach. Asking special needs students to do too much, too quickly is a recipe for failure, and the Department of Education’s own numbers prove it.

Common Core


The Department of Education maintains a database of valuable resources for Special Education. While all of these are helpful, there are a few useful links in particular parents should read through:

  • Similarly, there are informative sites that outline what students with special needs should know. Many of them may have trouble reading and understanding this on their own, so take a little while to help them through it and make sure that, if possible, they understand what’s going on and what’s expected of them.

Don’t be afraid to ask for additional help if you need it. Most children with special needs are not meeting the educational standards demanded of them, and many aren’t even getting the help to which they are legally entitled. The Children With Special Needs Law Group is committed to helping children with special needs get the help they deserve, and if you feel like your school is failing your child, you may have a genuine case on your hands. Don’t let your child remain stuck in a system that isn’t helping them. Ask for a consultation today and find out what you can do to fix this.