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Disney Magic


If I could only say one thing about our Disney trip (God forbid!) it would be this: autism anxiety 0, massive amounts of fun, 1 (I should really say a gazillion, but I’m trying to remain traditional here.)

Last week the McCafferty tribe, along with our host, Grandma, and my lovely sister-in-law, descended upon Orlando for the second time in full force. Our previous trip two years ago had met with mixed success. Zach was so enthralled he cried when we came home and said he wanted to go back, but Justin, our severely autistic son, who was slightly under-the-weather, was mostly miserable. We spent most of the trip watching him clutch one of us every ten feet or so and say “aha,” his word approximation for “home,” and the sparkle that usually resides in his eyes was absent. I chose to chalk up most of his discontent with his illness, and some with the anxiety that a break in routine brings to him. I knew the true test would be our next trip, and I’d have to wait to find out if my guess was correct (waiting not being my forte, I was annoyed.) It turned out, for once, I was right.

Justin was absolutely amazing.

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He weathered both plane rides like a champ, rocking back and forth to comfort himself (we always plan to have a family member sit behind him,) frequently smiling and looking out the window with glee. A few times on the way back to Philadelphia he said his sounds for “home,” and when I reassured him that’s where we were going his face was incandescent.

My boy gets it.

There were, of course, difficult parts of the trip. Our first night Justin woke up at 3:00 AM with stomach issues and he couldn’t get back to sleep, so we were a wee bit tired for Legoland (but frankly it was so damn hot that one day we didn’t much notice.) He continued to wake up by 4:00 each morning we were there, but since I was crashing from complete exhaustion by 9:30 each night (McCafferty mama really lives it up on vacation) his early awakenings weren’t much of an issue from then on. Our first morning he kept handing me his shoes and cried for a while, but once we reassured him he was going to have fun he got over it, and we had a fabulous day.

And this time he adored the Magic Kingdom. The smiles, the giggles, the look on his face in “It’s a Small World” are emblazoned in my memory forever.

Perhaps some of you are thinking that it must be nice to be able to take a severely autistic kid on a vacation when you are dealing with insomnia, eating issues, aggression, or all of the above and more. I’ll be happy to share that we’ve been there too, with some of the issues lasting many years. Believe me things are often still challenging chez McCafferty, but we’ve weathered many storms over the last twelve years, and through therapy, luck, and mostly Justin’s own maturation process and love, we’ve come to a much better place.

A place where I felt comfortable taking my boy on two plane rides and having him sleep somewhere not his own bed.

I can’t tell you what it means to me to have a family vacation where both of my kids actually loved their stay. I adored seeing Zach’s excitement over every ride, but in truth, I was even happier to give this experience to Justin. Planner that I am, I’m always thinking ahead to the day where Justin will have to take one giant step out of his comfort zone and live without us. Frankly, the fact that he could handle five days in another state with new experiences and at least somewhat sleep there is thrilling to me. Over the years to come I’m going to have to continually stretch my boy, and his reaction to this giant departure from his daily routine is greatly encouraging.

It gives me hope.

In my next and final post about Disney (I swear!) I’m going to write about the new disability pass system that Disney is now employing. I’ll tell you how to get the most out of piggybacking the pass with your three complimentary fast passes (this will include a description of how much I enjoyed watching my husband run to get the disability pass times for us.) I’ll share with you how my type A personality flourished, and perhaps you can break our record (twelve rides in seven hours WITH a lunch break) and not kill yourselves doing it.

I’ll be back. And I want to say a special thank you to those of you who follow me on Facebook. Your support and joy at Justin’s own joy were priceless.

And as I mentioned in my last post, this time, I kept some of that magic for myself.

For more on my family visit my blog at
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