Today's Autism Awareness Month guest blogger is Mark Vitek:
For us, Disney World has always been a place of great joy;
but even more so for our son Benny. We
first went as a family in May, 2006 when Benny was 6. We had been to see Disney on Ice that
February and my wife, Jen, and I had decided to surprise our 3 kids with a
short trip to Walt Disney World after experiencing the magic that day. Benny became a huge Mickey Mouse fan as well
at that show; something that endures today; Mickey is his best buddy. We went into this trip with very little
planning, letting our TA handle everything for us and had decided to ‘go with
leading into the trip Benny had become fascinated with Disney’s Aladdin and
mainly Genie. On our first trip into the
Magic Kingdom as we entered Adventureland, there he was and Benny ran up to him
and gave him the biggest hug ever. This
was the first time we saw our little guy so excited and happy all at the same
time. And it showed us just how the
Disney Magic can work wonders for our autistic son.
Now, years and many visits later, one thing remains as
far as Ben and Disney World go; Disney is his Happy Place. We’ve experienced many special moments with
Ben at the World. His first visit with
his Buddy Mickey (at Chef Mickey’s), his first ride on his favourite ride Big
Thunder Mountain, the smile as he gets on a Monorail and many more. For Ben many things cause stress in his young
life but Disney is always there for him.
He doesn’t just visit attractions; he experiences them in ways that are
uniquely Ben. He enters every attraction
with his own flair. He’s a Pirate
Captain at PoTC, he’s a rock star at the Rock N’ Rollercoaster, a pilot on
Soarin’, an explorer out to find the Yeti on Expedition Everest, a vampire at
the Haunted Mansion and Captain Bubba Belugi looking for new and weird life
forms while flying through Space Mountain.
And he acts out his adventures as he goes along, with CMs often time
joining in even if with just a “Rock on Dude” or “Ahoy Matey”. He loves our visits from the minute we pass
by his Buddy under the WDW arch, to the tram and monorail rides to visiting his
friends and every second in between; and he does this with a child-like joy
that we hope he never loses as most children his age have done. We get to re-live our own magic through him
on every visit.
No place we’ve ever been treats autistic children as well
as they do at Walt Disney World. Cast
Members will give a little extra attention to make waits better for him,
Characters may interact a little more with him and the Parks as a whole do so
much to make the visits by autistic children so much better. We do get a Guest Assistance Card (GAC) for
our visits and there are seldom any questions or looks from CMs. Waiting in queue is the one stressor that Ben
does experience at Disney as the noise and heat and crowd can get to him. But thanks to the GAC and some very caring
CMs, those waits are lowered and his time even more enjoyable for him.
WDW is the best medicine for even his worst weeks. No matter how stressful a day is, he gets
through knowing he sees his Buddy and goes to Disney that weekend; especially
the stress he gets from school. School
is rough for any 12-year old, but especially for one with autism, but Disney is
always there to help him through.
Sometimes just holding one of his plush Mickeys is enough to help bring
calm to his world. But even a quick Park
visit does amazing things and makes his world alright again. And this is the kind of Magic that money
can’t buy; it’s there at Disney and it’s real.
There are some things we do need to use to keep his Disney time going more smoothly for him. Jen’s iPhone and the many apps make the times we do wait pass better for Ben. An insulated ‘water’ bottle filled with Kool-Aid keeps Ben from getting dehydrated or overheated. And some earplugs make the noise level bearable for him as noise is his biggest sensory overload concern, so a good set of earplugs helps ease that for him. Ben carries a waterproof pouch on a lanyard and attaching the earplugs to the lanyard keeps them handy and easy to use.
We’ve seen our young man grow through the years and
thanks to great teachers, aides, therapists and friends he has come a long
way.And I think Disney has helped along
the way through movies, music and the magic of WDW.If you are a parent of a child on the
Spectrum and are considering a Walt Disney World (or Disneyland) vacation; rest
at ease knowing that with the right planning for your child’s needs and with
the assistance of everyone at the Disney Parks you can have an extremely
memorable and fun time.I’ve seen it
with our Ben and with many other autistic children we’ve seen in the
Parks.So please do consider sharing
that Magic with your child.
The Many Adventures of a Disney-Lovin’ Spectrum Mom is not affiliated with, authorized or endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with, The Walt Disney Company or Disney Enterprises, Inc., or any of their affiliates. All trademarks, service marks, and trade names are proprietary to Disney Enterprises, Inc., its subsidiary, affiliated and related companies, as the case may be. For the official Disney website, visit disneyparks.disney.go.com