As many of you know April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism has affected many in our nation and is a growing crisis. 1 child out of every 150 is affected. Autism is a neural disorder that affects three areas: communication, social skills, and cognitive development. Autism can affect each person differently causing a wide spectrum. Sometimes a person may seem odd while others may be non communicative. Josh, our son, was diagnosed officially at age four with autism, even though we knew a long time before there was a problem. We have a different challenge in our life, but we know that when we go to Disney as a family, we can have a magical time.
Disney does a wonderful job in helping many families with special needs on their trips. The first thing they do is provide additional assistance through a Guest Assistance Card (know as GAC). Now, this is provided to those that need that extra assistance. In terms of Josh’s condition, it allows us to wait at an alternative entrance for some attractions or allows us to use Josh’s stroller as a wheel chair. We can see more shows while he sits in his stroller because it’s his little area that he controls. Also, we can always talk to cast members about any concerns or needs, and they provide suggestions or additional help. Most of all, Disney makes Josh feel like a special guest.
On one such time we were waiting in line for our turn to meet Mickey and his friends at the Character Connection at Epcot. When we got to the front of the line, we talked to the cast member and asked if she could let the photopass photographer know that it might take a little time for them to take the picture because Josh was autistic. She told us she would take care of it. As we started to move in for pictures, she explained the situation to the photographer but also whispered to Mickey. Just like clockwork, as we moved from one character to another, the word was passed on to each character very discreetly.
It did not end there. As we went on to meet Mickey, the cast member held the line and explained to those in line that there was a special guest that needed some special assistance and that it would be just a moment longer before they could meet Mickey and his pals. Josh was not rushed from one to the next, but each gave him and his sister Becca a little time to let him meet, touch, and have fun with them. At the end, they met the mischievous Chip and Dale. At one point, the chipmunks, Josh, and Becca were on the floor wrestling, having a great time.
Right then, as a parent, I knew Disney was a magical place. At this point, Josh wasn’t a boy with autism, but he was a little boy like every other, having a special time with Disney characters he knew and loved. Several trips later, we started our website Disney for Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We wanted other families to know they could go and have just as a magical time as we do every time we go. It is not always easy and sometimes we do have challenges. However, it is worth it when he gets that big grin from ear to ear as he goes down Splash Mountain or when he reaches up and gives his favorite princess, Snow White, a kiss on the cheek. Those moments are priceless and magical. What makes Disney magical for your family?
Ray grew up with Disney having visited Disneyland several times as a kid, and Walt Disney World once. He had always had fond memories of the trips, but really became a Neurotic Disney Dad when he started to take his kids to the Disney Parks. His oldest child has Autism Spectrum Disorder. So taking his kids to Disney took a little more planning and some lessons learned the hard way. To help others, he and his wife have created Disney for Families with Autism Spectrum Disorder (WDWAutism.com) to help others plan their magical trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line. WDWAutism also has planning aides to help families prepare for their trips. Rachel and Ray also produce a weekly Disney Parks planning podcast called Mouse Travel Tips.