I titled a previous post HOW TO DO DISNEY WITH AUTISM. In retrospect, I should have titled it How WE do Disney with Autism. There is an accurate quote, “If you’ve met one person with autism – you’ve met one person with autism,” by Stephen Shore. Therefore, how we did a Disney vacation with Autism is just one sample out of many.
One of Jessica’s characteristics is extreme anxiety. If she gets worried about something, then she’s going to worry about it until it happens, and then sometimes even afterwards. She is somewhat aware that she has this issue. I have talked to her about it, taught her about what it is and what it means, and explain it very bluntly to her that it is part of her autism. I believe a small way that has helped keep her from having the all-out meltdowns quite as often.
When first planning for this trip, I found Walt Disney World Resort® Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)￼
Here is a sample of the Table of Contents
Frequently Asked Questions & Helpful Tips Trip
- Planning Strategies
- Transportation & Getting Around
- Park Entrances/When You Arrive
- Cast Members
- Lost Persons/If You Get Lost
- Attraction details for all four Theme Parks Accessing Attractions
- Need A Break?
- Disney Characters
- Beyond the Theme Parks
One of the suggestion in the guide is:
“Create or review a Visual Schedule. Go over this or similar timeline with your family member so he or she can learn the routine.”
For a ‘visual schedule’ I made Jessica a Disney notebook with pictures to describe our trip and what to expect. Even though she cannot fully see the details of the pictures, she can connect what she is looking at to what we are describing. We looked at it and talked about it many times before the trip, in the car, and while there.
Jess seemed to have more anxiety on this Disney trip than she usually does. Things she (therefore we) worried about a lot on the trip was our entire vacation schedule, daily schedule, eating schedule, and attraction/ride schedule. Every day, multiple times a day, we reviewed what park(s) we were doing that day, and the next day, and the next day, etc. Then, within the park(s), what all attractions/rides we were going to and which was next. We talked about this before, during, and after each attraction. Over and over again. Then again. I will admit, yes, it was tiring. Even me, the queen of patience, got fatigued of the questioning. The key is attempting to not let her know I am getting worn out by it. Because then, she worries about me getting tired of it. Then she starts asking questions like, am I mad at her and is she bothering me. The anxiety becomes quite circular. For me personally, it is best to just take some deep breaths and reassure her of the schedule.
For us, it is extremely important to take Jessica approved snacks to the parks. Jess is a picky eater. Her menu preferences are not extremely limited, but there are two things that happen when we are traveling that make meal planning stressful beyond the schedule anxiety: expectations and options.
If chicken nuggets and chicken tenders were health foods, she would be the healthiest person on earth. I am pretty sure that she would eat some form of nugget or tenders three meals a day for infinity. When we are traveling, she expects that she is going to eat tenders most of the time. True enough, that is what usually happens because unless we go somewhere that offers vegetables, it is chicken. It is not just because I am a pushover (which I am) but it is most often because she does not usually eat bread. By bread I mean sandwich bread, loaf bread, buns, etc. That has been a life long food dislike and I do not know why, but I assume it is texture and temperature. She will eat some toasted bread like garlic bread, and she will eat rolls. But she does not want a sandwich made out of a roll. She likes food cooked (hot) and prefers not to eat cold food.
I prepared Jess ahead of time that part of our plan was going to be eating breakfast in our room each morning before heading out to the park. This meant cold breakfast instead of warm. When I told her, she was not happy about it, but did not make a big deal about it. Once on the trip, there were no complaints from her. It was a cereal bar each morning. Lunch worked out well because my mom and dad cooked for us several times (yea! hot lunch!) One day we had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe® (chicken tenders & fries!) and one day we ordered pizza delivered to the pool at our resort, Port Orleans Riverside. Our biggest mistake came by choosing Friar’s Nook to grab a quick to counter service. Considering it was spring break and crowded, we just picked something nearby. I grabbed a table as someone got up and Jess and I waited on Dad and Sister to bring the food. Well… little did I know almost everything on the menu is mac & cheese based (not our favorite). She was unhappy and sister and I got grossed out pretty quick as well. But, all in all she handled it okay. She ate a few bites, then had the back up plan of peanut butter crackers and raisins.
In my upcoming episodes of How WE Did Disney with Autism, I will address
- Disney Disability Access Service (DAS) Card; did we use it or not
- Disney FastPass+ service and how it affected our vacation.
- The good, the bad, and the ugly about being in the wheelchair
- The mobile apps LINES and My Disney Experience
- Length of Stay