Last week I had the pleasure of spending a few days at Disney with my family during New Jersey’s NJEA break. We had perfect weather (ponchos never used), were able to get on many rides each day, and most importantly, my severely autistic sixteen-year-old slept well and was an angel on the plane both ways.
Trust me, both of those things could have been deal breakers for our trip.
This was our fourth trip to Disney in the last six years, and each time we’ve gotten it down better and had more fun. I’d like to take a moment to say this. I’m sure some parents of severely autistic children are rolling their eyes at even the thought of taking their child to Disney. Believe me, I was once in that group, and didn’t even attempt it until Justin was ten. Our first trip he was ill and the entire week was a bit dicey, but since then he seems excited about going, even whips out his Disney DVDs weeks prior to leaving. If you even think you can pull it off, it’s worth giving it a shot.
I’m sure some of you are wondering how we manage the lines when we’re down there, especially if you’re aware that the disability pass changed years ago. It used to be that you’d enter Guest Services either inside or outside of the park, ask for the pass, and would be given the pass with the understanding that you could walk up to any ride and enter the fast pass lane at that attraction. Unfortunately people were abusing the system, and Disney had to change the rules. Now one person in your party needs to walk up to the ride (it does not have to be the person with the disability) and get a return time for the attraction. When you return at the appropriate time you are able to go into the fast pass lane.
You can only add on a new disability pass ride after you’ve used your pass on the ride you’ve selected, and there is no expiration time like there is with the fast passes. One tip I’d like to pass on is that when you get the pass (it’s good your entire trip, you don’t need to go back) you can ask them to book your first disability pass ride, which saves a bit of running around.
Always a silver lining if you look hard enough.
I am really proud that my son can handle so much change- a plane ride, a new bed to sleep in, tons of people (even on a traditionally not-so-busy week as the first week in November). I want anyone reading this to know that we have had many challenges with Justin in the past. There have been sleeping issues, aggression issues, eating issues, and toileting issues which combined kept us from taking him anywhere other than a beach vacation for a decade. I did try and prepare him before our first trip by showing him old Disney videos and telling him we were going there, and he seemed to get it.
Despite being ill he was really excited our very first day there, and for subsequent trips I made a scrapbook so I could prepare him each time we were going again. If possible I would recommend having your child sleep at another person’s house prior to the trip just to “practice,” and if they have any dietary considerations, research the restaurant’s menus before you go. There are supposed to be gluten-free options at many of the dining establishments, and we never had a problem ordering food for him. Another recommendation is eat an early lunch or dinner, the crowds will be less and you won’t waste so much time eating.
After all, Disney is all about the rides, right?
I consider Disney a “working vacation,” but with some planning (we create a potential ride itinerary in advance) Disney is possible even with a severely autistic child. I will mention that I read recently that an autistic person is suing Disney over the new disability pass changes, and it will be interesting to see what happens with that. I personally know some families who have not taken their kids back there since the changes as they don’t believe they’ll be able to handle not automatically walking onto the ride, so I’m hopeful for them that at least some disable people will have access to the old disability pass.
It is supposed to be the most magical place on earth after all.
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