There has been a lot of conversation over the new Disability Access Service Card (or DAS) at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. I wrote about the changes here – Guest Assistance Card at Disney is Undergoing Changes. What This Means for you. I’ve followed various blogs like Autism at the Parks to see just what the new card/service entails and how that will affect families with children with autism. What I’ve found is that the new system seems to be working out just great and as always, if you simply let the various cast members know what specific needs your child has, chances are, they will help you to make things as easy and as magical as possible.
Now, from my own trips to Walt Disney World, I have to say, the park is not only magical to children, but to their parents as well. Disney has taught me many things over the years, but none stand out as much as what they have taught me about my own son and his autism. Here are just a few ways Mickey and his friends have shed some light on my son’s abilities.
Magic – Nothing is better than seeing your child’s eyes light up as they see that magical castle down main street, or the Mouse himself, for the first time. My son struggles with making eye contact with people he isn’t familiar with but on his first trip to Walt Disney World a couple years ago, he made eye contact with one of his favorite characters. Pluto! He then wanted everyone around him to know that he saw this famous dog and made eye contact with complete strangers to let them know that he just met the puppy in charge! This was truly a magical experience!
Imagination – Another difficult thing for my son is imagination and pretending. The great thing about Disney is that imagination turns into real life experiences and it makes it so much easier for my son to understand things! Toy Story was just something that we’d play in the background for Brady while he carefully lined up toys or stacked his blocks. It wasn’t until he got to meet Buzz and Woody in real life that he finally connected with the movie and sat down to watch for more than a 5 minute span of time. He even began to pick up his Buzz and Woody toys and start to make them fly or talk. He was learning how to use his imagination and I was overjoyed!
Thoughtfulness – Sometimes, as a mom of a child on the spectrum, we are so worried that our kid is “acting up” to other people that we don’t realize that some of the people witnessing a meltdown actually understand what you are going through and are there to help. I experienced first hand how caring others can be when my son was overwhelmed at the Indiana Jones Show at Hollywood Studios. Brady started screaming after some gun shots in the show. We were in the very last row, so it was easy to sneak out. Cast members came over to make sure he was okay and told us we could come back in if we wanted to leave, even though the signs say no entry after a certain time. I left the area and took my screaming (and now flailing child who was inadvertently hitting me) to a quiet area near the American Idol experience. There I sat with him while he pushed and hit and cried, just hugging him and not knowing how to help him. A couple came over and instantly I thought they were going to roll their eyes at me, or tell me I’m a bad mom. Instead, they did the opposite. They came over, put their hands on my shoulders and said I was the most patient mom they had seen. I teared up and said, “What else am I supposed to do?” It was more of a question, seeking advice, than a response to what they had said. The gentleman kneeled down to Brady and asked him to give him a high five. It was just the distraction Brady needed as he instantly calmed down, gave the man a high five, and hugged me. To this day I wish I would have gotten the couple’s name. I will never forget them.
Acceptance – To say that the cast members at Walt Disney World and Disneyland are exceptional is putting it mildly. We’ve been to Walt Disney World three times as a family and each time we’ve been accepted and welcomed no matter the situation. If my youngest son is having a meltdown, a cast member is there to offer a helping hand instead of a sideways glance. If my middle child wants to ride Star Tours for the 147th time, but is uncomfortable with 3D, the cast members whisper to him that they were a little leery of it at first too, but eventually coax him into trying the glasses on and on the 148th time on the ride, he’s experiencing it in all it’s 3D glory, and loved it! My oldest son, who is 14 and is definitely owning the “moody teenager” status, smiles and runs around the parks like he’s 6 years old again. Even tolerating walking with his family, instead of 4 steps behind. Acceptance. From the staff, to the guests to even my own family. Magical.
Those are just a few ways Disney has opened up my mind to autism, my son and my family as a whole. I will always be forever grateful for every experience we have at Mickey’s house! What has Disney taught you?