From that very first trip to Disney World with Adrian, we learned a very important lesson that not only changed our vacation strategy but also our life at home. Adrian could quickly become overstimulated (and then aggressive) in certain environments, especially Disney. But when he was seated and buckled into the stroller it worked like magic to help him be calmer and enjoy it all without being overwhelmed. When he outgrew the stroller we switched to the wheelchair and found it had the same positive effect.
Ever since, we’ve owned a wheelchair for Adrian and we always use it traveling with him. Besides helping keep Adrian calm and patient, it makes it easy for others to recognize he has a disability. Autism is invisible except for the behaviors. Adrian looks just like any other 18 year old young man. The wheelchair immediately let’s others know he has a disability which makes them more likely to give us a break. No one is surprised when they see him act in strange ways. People around us are more accommodating, understanding and patient.
Now I know some would say that he should walk if he can walk. But if the point of the vacation is for us all to relax and enjoy it, then it makes sense to do what we know works. The couple of times we did let Adrian walk around this time just confirmed for me that it is the right choice for us.
Adrian has no sense of personal space and when he’s walking around he often plows through groups of people, bumping them as he goes. At nearly 6 feet tall and a hefty build, I’ve seen him nearly knock people down just passing them. His size makes it very hard for me to guide and steer him. I’m only just over 5 feet tall and no match for his momentum. In stimulating environments Adrian has a hard time hearing and following verbal directions. So you’ve basically got an out of control tank in a very crowded place.
Besides the benefit to parental stress levels and everyone around us, Adrian just seems happier using the chair as well. You can see his body relax and his energy become calmer as soon as he clips that buckle in his chair. He takes it all in and enjoys the ride. He’s not overcome by a need to constantly stim like when he walks.
Fortunately Disney World is very easy to navigate with a wheelchair. Most of the queues are wheelchair accessible and cast members are very helpful. Using the wheelchair for Adrian is one way we do Disney a little differently.