Lots of parents with autistic children already know what a great place Disney World is for vacationing. I know many autistic kids, like my son, spend huge amounts of time watching Disney movies, reading Disney books, listening to Disney music. They just love the Disney characters.
Besides the appeal of the theme, Disney World has several systems in place which make it easier for people with disabilities to enjoy the fun. A special pass aquired at Guest Services allows us to use the disabled entrances of the rides. This cuts the wait times down to managable periods. We use a wheel chair for Adrian and at Disney everything is handicap accessible, including the transportation systems. With the focus on family fun and staff who see all types of disabilites daily, Disney World is one of the few places we go where I feel comfortable. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I feel like Adrian’s unconventional behavior is more accepted there than at my local grocery store, for example.
Accomodations can be tough. Adrian may be non-verbal but he can be quite loud at times. We’ve stayed in regular hotels on occasion and it’s almost always a problem for our neighbors. At Disney we’ve solved this problem by staying in the cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. The cabins are about the size of a trailer home and come complete with a full kitchen, living area and separate bedroom. They’re separated from one another by trees, providing just the kind of ‘sound barrier’ we need to keep our neighbors from giving us dirty looks.
Food is another issue. I won’t say we’ve totally licked this problem. Like most things, it’s not ideal, but when you’ve got a special needs child, you’ve got to be flexible. Adrian knows the location of every McDonald’s in every park. While we’re in Disney, he eats it a lot. I don’t think it’s so bad when you consider that we don’t eat McDonald’s at all here at home.
Of course we still seek to feed him other things every chance we get. The full kitchen in the cabins make this much easier to do. We grocery shop as soon as we arrive in Orlando, stocking the kitchen with foods Adrian will eat like bagels, cereals, bananas, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, cheese, eggs and bread. A full tummy is key to a happy Adrian so we also stock up on snacks to tote with us like granola and cereal bars, raisins, gold fish and teddy grams.
Sit down restaurants are another thing. This past trip we had some trouble eating in restaurants with Adrian. I’m convinced this is due to the fact that since we started homeschooling the girls, we’ve stopped taking Adrian to restaurants here at home. It’s just easier to take everyone during the day while Adrian is at school. But now he’s not getting the practice he needs to maintain his ‘restaurant skills’. There’s trouble when he’s thrown back into one on vacation. To make the best of it, we check all the menus online, try to eat at off times and carefully choose the the restaurant based on it’s atmosphere. We’re most sucessful when we bring the McD’s and the music player with us.
Even with difficulties here and there, we all have a great time at Disney. I’m looking forward to this next trip.