I am very excited to be a new blogger with Chosen Families! I should probably start out with a nice introduction but for now…I’ve got Mickey on my mind. My niece just received her new nametag from the mouse, himself. She’s a college student and doing an internship there this semester.
You could say I’m affectionate for Mickey… )
I never met Mickey as a child, nor any of his friends. But when I met him at age 29, along with my children – I felt like a child. I was full of wonder and excitement. But I also had the wisdom of an adult… I practically shed tears because I just felt so happy and fortunate to be experiencing this and sharing it with my children. Since that first visit a few years ago, we’ve been back another couple times.
One of the things that clinched our decision to take our first visit was when we learned how accepting Disney World is of children with autism. Disney has a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) for people with disabilities that hinder their ability to wait in line or use certain queue areas. Upon arrival at the park you go to Guest Services, show them your child’s diagnosis letter or discuss it with them and they will give you a GAC card for the duration of your time at Disney World. This accommodation is what keeps us coming back to Disney World (well that and the magic!). We can enjoy special memories together as a family. So many of the attractions and rides at Disney World are appropriate for our whole family to enjoy together. Waiting to get in is not painful because with the GAC we are able to use a Fast Pass lane (where available) to enter the ride. This significantly decreases the amount of time Owen has to stand in line. He still has to do it, which is good because he learns the necessary discipline of being patient. But thankfully the poor people in front of us and behind us don’t have to endure his bouncing off of them for as long as if we’d been in the regular line. In addition to this and just as important, we have always gone during the off-season and during weeks and days that tend to be slower. I use Undercover Tourist’s recommendations for which parks to visit on the specific days of our trip.
Because that major stressor is handled and understood by Disney, we are able to enjoy our children and the experience. We love seeing the wonder in their eyes. This environment is perfect for our son. We are continuously experiencing or doing something, or we’re on the move to the next one. This constant activity and entertainment is perfect for Owen and it actually allows my husband and I to have a great trip. While trekking around the parks, kids in strollers, we can talk and enjoy each other’s company. Upon our return from each of these trips, and a short window of time where Owen is transitioning back into his schedule, Owen has a surge of compliance, learning, and growth.
Another thing we have done before each trip is to write a detailed social story (with pictures) so Owen knows exactly what to expect. I also bring things like light sticks so Owen feels in control of his environment when it’s dark. We got into pin trading and Owen’s desire to do so grew with each visit. This last time he was initiating interactions with cast members to seek out a possible pin trade. He was having to articulate and socialize with “strangers” and this added a layer to our therapy that we simply can’t replicate at home. And lastly, we always use strollers! If you have any concern at all with your child wandering off, or just simply being distracted, or if your child “falls to pieces” when they get tired – bring one! Up until this last trip we’ve always brought one or two along and appreciated having it in the airport as well – it doubles as an often needed safety measure. When Owen is in a stroller he feels safer and more able to handle situations out of his control. For our most recent trip Owen could no longer share one with a sibling (I’ll save this for another post someday!) and he was right at the weight limit for our traditional single stroller so we rented the perfect stroller from Orlando Stroller Rentals.
One thing I have learned about Owen’s “label” is that it really helps people understand him. We don’t wear it on our sleeve while traveling but when needed I can let people know and quickly turn judgment into compassion (and that could be another whole post!). I highly encourage families with a child on the spectrum to give it a whirl! Disney World is the happiest place on earth, after all!