Subtitle: Wow, we learned a lot!
I have a lot to type about our trip to Disney: the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. Overall, we had a very good time. There were some very frustrating moments–and some of them involved Ethan. If we were to do Disney again, which we hope to do someday, we would definitely do things differently from the beginning. But, unfortunately, only hindsight is 20/20!
The one things I want to say to moms of special needs kids who go to Disney is OH MY WORD, GET A GUEST ASSISTANCE CARD! We didn’t get it the first night (I forgot the letters from the doctor that we ended up not needing) and Ethan mostly freaked out, demanded not to be in line anymore, and kept his hands over his ears.
For you fellow SN moms, whatever park you first visit, go IMMEDIATELY to the Guest Relations desk and ask for one. We got letters from our pediatrician about both Ethan (can’t wait in line) and Laura (needs to sit up front), but ended up 1) forgetting them and 2) not needing them. The Guest Relations people believed us. Ethan got the braille guide for each park and LOVED reading the braille/tactile maps, but the GAC saved our sanity and vacation. I completely underestimated how difficult it would be for Ethan. Once we got the card, we went through either the FastPass line or the handicapped entrance. Many times we literally just walked onto a ride with no wait. That helped Ethan (and the rest of us) tremendously!
Overall, we had a very good time, but a lot of it was difficult for Ethan. There’s a LOT of sensory input going on all the time—loud noises, constant motion, lots of people etc. By the 3rd day (Hollywood Studios), we figured out that we needed to split up and have Jim take the other kids (and his mom) to the rides that they would like and I would take Ethan to the shows and rides that he would like. Trying to do everything together was just not fun for anyone, and we felt pulled in two directions and that we were cheating both Ethan and the other kids.
At our last park, Animal Kingdom, I thought to ask a cast member if they had any suggestions for hands’ on experiences for E. That person spoke to another person, who spoke to another person who was FABULOUS. He got a map of the park and circled stuff that would be good for E. If I could go back, I would ask at every park because a lot of times we were guessing.
There are regular maps/guides/brochures at the beginning of each park, but there are also guides for those with disabilities at guest relations. Those guides give detailed descriptions of each ride and what issues people could have with it (loud, dark, difficult for wheelchairs etc) and where the GAC entrance was. They were invaluable.
We stayed at the Fort Wilderness cabins and that was an excellent choice for us—each one has a full kitchen, so we had breakfast there. There’s a bedroom (with a door) with a double bed and a bunkbed, and then a murphy bed in the living room, plus the couch, so the 6 of us fit well. Disney doesn’t do larger families well—one of the few complaints I had.
Ethan spent much of the week with his hands over his ears—the most “autistic” I have seen him act in YEARS. That first night was bad—I didn’t expect him to be so difficult and ended up frustrated and impatient. After a few days I accepted that he was just going to have a difficult time, and rejoiced when the hands came down and he simply enjoyed something. When we ask him, he rates the vacation a 10 out of 10, which really surprises me. He needed to have way more down time than the others (he spent an evening in the cabin with Nana watching kid DVD’s instead of going to the Magic Kingdom) and was the most ready to come home by the end. Knowing what we know now, we would definitely build in non-park days where we just hung out at the resort (if we did it again, which we hope to sometime in the long-range future)
Oh, and one thing more: He spontaneously potty trained while there! He’s been wearing underwear for awhile, but still pooping in his pull up. While at the cabin he just did it one day and then kept on, even at the parks. And he’s done it since we’ve been home, so I think we’re there. AH-MAZING!