As any family with autism knows, vacations are a special circumstance. The best advice is to know what you’re up against and prepare, prepare, prepare.
For our upcoming trip to Disney World, I’ve been immersed in information for several weeks, both with this book, this book, and hours of Internet research. We’ve taken the kids once before, three years ago, and they have fond memories, so they are all as anxious as we are to go again. (Even more so to escape the 20 inches of snow on the ground we have here!!)
What I’ve found over and over again are stories from parents of children with autism who swear that their child has changed for the better after experiencing Disney. A child who hasn’t spoken before starts naming the rides he’s been on with enthusiasm. Others talk about how their child made a personal connection with one of the larger than life characters, how the first smile appeared–many different tales of joy.
We know for a fact there is something about the place, because after our last visit, Little Miss evolved about six months’ worth of development in the next two months. Her language grew immensely. She couldn’t have explained then, but now recounts in great detail what her favorite rides were like. It did seem like magic.
Jessica Rally explains this effect in terms more scientific: “It may seen strange to parents that a child could go to a large public place, filled with crowds, forced to wait for long times in lines, and not have an outburst. But the secret behind Autism treatments isn’t Disney Magic, it’s the fact that amusements parks like Disney World get a child’s senses involved in everything happening around them. The park’s layout never changes, and overall it is a predictable learning environment.”
She goes on to say that a parent can certainly involve a child’s senses with specific learning tools and techniques anywhere, not only at Disney.
True enough. And I’m letting science guide us to some extent, as I’ve got my doctor’s letters for a Guest Assistance Pass for our two explorers. We’ve watched the Travel Channel updates on the parks, so the kids know what’s changed. We’ve scoured the Disney site and prepared the children for the attractions that are not available at present, to avoid surprises and meltdowns. We’ve done social stories about what might happen if a ride breaks and we have to skip it. We’ve packed our favorite snacks for the two day drive and gotten our bookbags full of homework. We’re anxious to see how the new ADD meds affect the ability to enjoy expanded days of fun.
But when we leave tomorrow, we’ll be thinking a lot less about science and a lot more about the magical possibilities ahead.