The Happiest Place on Earth (or… preparing for battle)

I grew up a Disney kid.  I loved fairy tales, and in the 70’s/80’s Disney was pretty much the only visual source for fairy tales (besides being the BEST source anyway!!).  I remember going to see various movies with my parents, and I often acted out the story lines, read the books, and in general loved all things Disney.  Unfortunately I don’t remember a whole lot from my one magical trip to Walt Disney World when I was 7 (there are reasons that my mind has blocked out parts of my childhood memories, and unfortunately my Disney trip was partially a part of that) but what I do remember is wonderful.

I’ve been to Disney a few times as an adult, and it just keeps getting better and better for me.  I’d honestly go at least once a year if we could afford it.  So of course when Bubs started to fall in love with The Mouse when he was just 9 months old, it was a dream come true for me.  I began envisioning taking him to Disney multiple times throughout his childhood, what fun we’d have there, the wonderful family memories we would cherish through out the years…

Then came autism.

As I watched Bubs enjoy watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, I cried inside knowing how hard a trip to Disney would now be.  As I watched Bubs cuddle his Mickey in his sleep, I mourned the idea that he would be able to navigate an over stimulating environment like Disney World.

But then Monkey fell in love.  With Mickey.  And I realized that to give in to Bubba’s autism would be to deny Monkey’s opportunity to visit his idol in the one place he should be visited.  And then I realized that to give in to Bubba’s autism would be GIVING IN.  Nope, not gonna happen.  So I put on my mouse ears and started to do some research.

I read blogs about families that have kiddos with autism and their trips to Disney.  I found websites with advice.  And I discovered Disney’s committment to these kids.  To our kids.  To my Bubba.  Disney has what is called a Guest Assistance Card, and we can get it for our family because of Bubs.  While I have yet to experience it, I’ve heard that it will make it possible for Bubs to have an easier experience waiting to ride the magical rides.  I know he will still have to deal with waiting, I know not to expect to step right on any ride.  But with the GAC we will be able to minimize waiting in a stressful environment, and we will be able to maintain the security of a stroller in ways we couldn’t without it.  I’ve read up on suggestions about which rides to target and which rides to avoid.  I’m working on thinking through the whole experience and how to make it successful for Bubs, so that our whole family can enjoy a trip together.

Big A and I talked it over extensively.  See, we’re still hoping (please God) to have another baby.  Soon.  We’ve always envisioned our family with 3 kiddos, all close in age.  So we’ve looked at our life and looked at our finances, and come to the conclusion that we have a window of opportunity.  To take Bubs and Monkey while they still worship The Mouse.  Before they’ve moved on to boy stuff like Transformers and superheroes.  While we have one kid per adult.  Big A put in that he wanted to take the boys during the Christmas season, because Christmas at Disney is perfect.  We love the winter holidays above all else, and Disney is awash with holiday spirit.  We experienced it just over 3 years ago… more like 3 years and 9 months ago (so if Bubs recently turned 3… anyone following what I’m saying here? *grin*).  So we priced it out… we decided… we booked it… and we’re going!  4 nights 5 days in December.

So now… I prepare for battle.  I want Bubs to enjoy each and every minute of being there, so I have to figure out how to prepare him for it.  He cannot possibly understand a description of this trip, so I need to build into his life things that will happen during the trip, so that when they do happen they will already be familiar.  Step 1: Christmas music.  Bubs LOVES music and singing, and sings familiar songs to himself to help himself regulate.  So we are learning Christmas songs.  We are playing Christmas music.  We are watching movies that contain Christmas music all. the. time. (good thing I love Christmas music and movies, or I’d be losing my mind and it’s only November 8th.)  He’s already learned Jingle Bells and we’re working on clarity.  Step 2: Airplane ride.  I asked Nana to give him a Little People airplane for his birthday so that we can role play all aspects of going on an airplane (bonus: teaching him dramatic play).  I’m now working simultaneously on… Step 3: Social stories about the airplane ride and staying in the hotel.  I’ll have the support of Bub’s school staff helping me with these.  Step 4: Picture Schedule to support waiting for a ride and then riding a ride.  Still tweaking how I’m going to do this, as even the word “wait” causes Bubs a lot of anxiety.  Got a song going at home and at school about waiting for our turn, but right now it’s rocky at best.  Step 5 will be getting familiar with Santa, snowmen, reindeer, etc… the icons of Christmas.  Luckily Bubba loves to identify things, so the vocabulary will be there.  We should have a couple of experiences meeting Santa prior to our trip, so that hump will be already crossed.  And I can’t forget preparing Bubs and Monkey to meet the most important figure of the trip: The Mouse.  We have our good friend Skates (the Chicago Wolves hockey team’s mascot) to thank for this one.  We see Skates up close and personal every few weeks (if not more often) when we go to hockey games, so my boys are used to giving hugs and high-fives to a rather scary-looking 7 foot tall wolf.  Mickey should be no problem.

A note to you, my dear reader:  Please, please, PLEASE comment and leave me suggestions!  This is something that I cannot get enough input on, especially if you have experience taking kiddos to Disney.  Oh, and by the way thank you for slogging through my thoughts and experiences.  You are my therapy, don’tcha know?  And if you like what you read, tell a friend.  If you think what I’m going through could help someone else, tell a friend.  If you think what a friend is going through could help me, tell a friend.  I’m trying to build my own autism mama village…

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2 Responses to The Happiest Place on Earth (or… preparing for battle)

  1. Dece says:

    You are so brave to attempt Disney! We have a couple of years before we take our little guy with autism to Disneyland, but it’s a long car ride for us. You are doing everything right in planning ahead! I’m thinking about my trips to Disneyland with my kids (who are NT) – just try to give yourself time to breathe and not be rigid in “we have to do all of this because we’re only here once”. Be sure to use the guest assistance… Plan ahead for meals and snacks, because waiting with big crowds at lunch or dinner can be too much for the kids whether they’ve got ASD or not! 😉 We had a vacation in San Diego (Sea World, Zoo, and Animal Park) last month with our family and our little guy loved being outside, the flags, the sights and sounds, but he doesn’t have the sensory issues that are common with ASD.
    Good luck and I hope your family has a magical holiday! 🙂

    • gowuffs says:

      Thanks Dece! I’m feeling pretty positive about the trip… the two biggest factors are the guest assistance card and utilizing Bub’s noise reducing headphones whenever he seems overwhelmed. That’s what works at the sporting events we take him to. We also talked the trip over with Bub’s teacher and OT during his parent/teacher conference yesterday, and I’ll be making and bringing a few visual supports to wear on a lanyard around my neck to help him wait for and then take his turn on the rides. I’m actually now more worried about Monkey fighting the stroller, because he’s just started walking (he’s 13 months) and that’s all he wants to do!

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