In the six years since my son was born, we have taken two overnight trips as a family. 24 hours each. That’s it. They were both to Reno when my parents lived there. For us that is a couple hour ride over the Sierras and we’re there. The first was when my son was 2 years old, long before he was diagnosed with autism. My gut told me it would be difficult. I was right. That trip was what I would call an “EPIC FAIL”.
Each trip, we stayed at the Peppermill Casino. The first time, my son screamed in his stroller from check-in to the elevators, and in the elevator and to the 17th floor. Once inside the room, he refused to leave. I spent the afternoon, evening and next morning, living through meltdowns like a bad case of hiccups, playing Thomas train on the floor, trying to find an acceptable Nicktoon, and having most of my hair fall out, figuring out how I was going to get him down the elevator and back out of the hotel without another meltdown. We were home by noon the next day.
The second trip was, again, to Reno. This time, my son was just about to turn 4 years old. We had a diagnosis but had not started therapy. I brought two bags of toys, paid for his bad nanny to stay overnight in her own room, so I could go out (but she ended up showing up late, smuggling a dog in her room for which I was responsible, not staying with my son at all and quitting two weeks later without notice…).
I did not go out that night but my son and I went to the casino arcade, a fairly quiet (by arcade standards) area much like Dave & Busters where he played games and enjoyed himself. He swam in the hotel pool with his dad (despite windy cool temperatures) and ate ice cream. He was generally okay with the room which was an amazing suite. We watched Alvin and the Chipmunks “The Squeakquel” together on the bed while daddy gambled. We went home the next day. That was heaven compared to our first time. And, it was two years ago. Work has interfered since then.
Now, with the help of ABA, we are trying to figure out whether an “amusement park”, like Disneyland would be a good idea. I’ve recently read posts here and here and a while back by my friend Karla, here. What I garner from all those posts is that one ASD child’s experience at Disney is one ASD child’s experience at Disney. In other words, despite the common denominator of our diagnoses, each child reacts differently to different stimuli, health, environment, temperature, etc., and each experience, good, bad or somewhere in between depends on so many variables, it would be impossible to engage in more than pure conjecture of what our experience might be.
And so, with that said, whether we do or do not head to Disney any time soon will depend strictly on my son’s own particular ASD issues, and whether he appears to desire a trip to Disney or not. Toward that end, the ABA staff has been running a program entitled “Amusement Park”. They have read a social story and have talked to my son about Disney characters and the “rides”. Clearly, the main “attraction” of any “amusement” park is the “ride”.
Because of my son’s sensory processing disorder issues, I have serious misgivings about whether “rides” will be fun, terrifying or a mixture of fun and terrifying (it was always the mixture for me) for him. I could live with plain fun, or the mixture but NOT the terrifying alone.
When I looked at the website and remembered my own experience at Disney (talk about long term memory!), I remember a lot of the rides had tunnels – “It’s a Small World”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, “Storybook Land Canal Boats”, well, you get the idea. Guess who has a deathly fear/fascination with tunnels? Yes. That’s right.
Armed with this information, the ABA team came up with a two part idea. Deal with tunnels and deal with rides. For tunnels, we got a “two-fer” – conquer the car wash fear, and conquer the tunnel. They prepared him to take a visit to the car wash for a couple weeks and culminated that with a trip to the gas station car wash. Amazingly, he was pretty well behaved through the whole car wash and after it was over, he wanted more.
Next, after the “amusment park” social stories and videos, we had to find some to ride. Rides within a decent driving distance, price and shift of an ABA tutor. With help from our case manager, John’s Incredible Pizza allowed us to do a walk-through without purchasing food or rides to desensitize my son to the environment. It turned out there was no need for desensitization. It’s like a Dave & Buster’s with a few indoor carnival rides added in. He wanted to play immediately. The arcade games would not be the problem.
We returned, fully armed for trying the rides. We paid (translation – I emptied my bank account). We ate.
He ate pizza!
He rode the Twister.
Although, not real happily…
Frog Jumper with his ABA tutor.
The tiny train roller coaster, and
The bumper cars!
Look at his face. I was not sure how he felt. He insisted he liked the rides and they made him happy. Funny that, because he asked for them first (to get them out of the way perhaps?), did not ask for seconds and went straight for the arcade.
I’m still on the fence about the Big “D”. After all did you read this post? Being manipulated to avoid ABA programs is one thing. Being manipulated to the tune of a couple thousand dollars is another…