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”.

Trip #1 – a moment between meltdowns on the hotel bed.

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.

Our second (amazing) hotel room with bag of toys…

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 “heart”ed the casino arcade.

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.

Don’t they look so happy?!

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.

Poor Jess the 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…


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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16 Responses to Vacation?

  1. Lisa says:

    First, I have to say that I am incredibly saddened to read all of these new policies at Disney where they no longer allow people with non-physical disabilities use the disabled entrance. That was the only way we could do Disney World. Tate just cannot do lines. Second, great approach to the arcade/ride issues. Thinking about that prior post, sounds like maybe he was manipulating the situation at the pizza place to get through the rides just to get to his favorite part. Hmm. Not the worst thing…but like you say, what might happen at Disney if you get there and there isn’t the “reward” of an arcade immediately after the rides. Tough call…I know in the past I’d say go for Disney…but with their new policies, I am not so sure.

    • solodialogue says:

      I only want to say one thing about all the discussion relating to the other posts about Disney policy. If you go to the website, there is a clear written policy in place that provides reasonable accommodation to those with ASD (Disneyland). That makes sense because Disney is a huge entity which is required to comply with state and federal law (here in the States). As such, they must and do comply with the ADA in writing. So, in reality, the “policy” has not changed.

      Whether the people who are trained and hired to implement the written policy is a whole different issue entirely. And as others have pointed out at Brenda’s post, everyone brings their own baggage to the job every day. Misunderstandings and outright prejudice and ignorance can lead an errant employee to abuse their position and ignore policy to suit their own purposes whatever they might be in the moment.

      What happened to Brenda was wrong but unless those who are in a position to discipline the employees who make the choices to defy and spurn written policy, are notified then nothing will change. That employee has now perpetuated a myth that has spread far and wide. I know a corporation like Disney does not want that kind of rep.

      Now, as for Toots, we will be working on”lines” Asa concept long before I fork out any cash to any amusement park at all! And I will have to devise a test to determine whether I’m being manipulated by my kid. I will be selling that if I figure one out! 😉

  2. Disney is tough. It is a LOT of stimulation and it wore all of us out. But, we’ll definitely be going back (in fact, the hubs just announced yesterday that his goal is to run the Disney marathon in January 2013 — yikes!).

    I think the real trick to doing Disney is to manage your expectations. That post you referenced from me was before our ASD diagnosis… I had expectations that LM would enjoy Disney like any typical kid. I understand now that my expectations were not realistic. Given that knowledge, I think she did really well.

    If I had to give one piece of advice for doing Disney, it would be this — go “all out” on the hotel room. We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Resort on our second trip — the one with views of an African savannah and giraffes and zebras and elephants and whatnot. The nice hotel really made up for the fact that we did not spend as much time in the parks as we would have liked. Plus, since we stayed at one of the Disney resorts, all we had to do was jump on a bus as soon as we saw that Little Miss was starting to fade and we were home. It was so much better than searching for a rental car in a crowded parking lot or waiting for a hotel shuttle to gosh-knows-where.

    I have more tips — if you’re interested. Let me know 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Running the Disney marathon? Now there’s a goal! Let us know how the training goes…

      I think you’re right about expectations. What do we hope to come away with from a trip to Disney as a realistic goal? If we are willing to make the trip, knowing the potential for overstimulation, with a plan in place, and with realistic goals, we are much more likely to call the trip a “happy” one or successful.

      As for going all out on the hotel, I really (!) understand this one having been “trapped” in the hotel room on the only two trips we’ve taken! I love the idea of the Animal Kingdom Resort but we will be going to Disneyland (driving – a plane trip would be a whole other set of programs, I’m in no mood to conquer currently) and so it looks like the Disneyland Resort will be our route. Hopefully, they have a good arcade inside… Does anyone know?

      I would love it if you would share more tips!! Even a post – which I would love for you to link here!! Thanks, Karla! 🙂

      • Lisa says:

        Oh, if policy hasn’t changed, then that gives me hope, Karen! We want to go back to Disney World in 2014-ish. If you ever get the flying programs tackled and end up at DW, I also recommend staying on property. Many of the DW resorts have arcades inside, so T would be in heaven!

        Karla, we took our older 2 boys prior to Tate’s dx, and had a few similar issues you had w/ LM. When we went back in December 2011, we had worked w/ the ABA therapists, knew what to avoid, and took our own pace. It went much more smoothly. We also stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge! That was totally worth the money. I agree, staying on property was worth its weight in gold…especially when it came to just hopping on a bus

  3. We have a small amusement park in our neighborhood as part of the Zoo/Conservatory here. We have had two of SensiGirl’s Birthday parties there. This wasn’t the kind of monetary or time investment going to Disney requires. The longest she had to wait was for the itty bitty roller coaster, and she was grooving on just watching it. She especially likes the kids’ play area with sprinklers and slides. She did go on the rides and loved them. I on the other hand, realized that I am getting a little old to be spinning myself round and round really, really fast. I will only be going to Disney one more time in my life and I am going to wait another couple of years at least for that.
    You might want to practice at a county or state fair to get a similar atmosphere to Disney with the noise and the lines without the travel or expense.

    • solodialogue says:

      I’ve seen your links (?) to the Zoo/Conservatory through your blog. It looks really great! I can completely understand why you would want to have SensiGirl’s parties there!

      Lines are tough for everyone, but especially our kids. I think a good, effective program and plan could really help all of us with this issue, not just for the idea of amusement rides but for daily life activities.

      Interesting that SensiGirl loved the rides. Toots told us he loved the rides but his facial expressions tell me otherwise, as well as his behavior (no asking for seconds, completing them all in a row 1st to get to the arcade games…) I’m way to old to enjoy the spinning – especially after a slice of pizza (blah!). I think it’s a good idea to wait to hone a few communication skills if you are only planning one more trip.

      I love the idea of practicing at the State Fair – ours starts on July 14th and it would be perfect!! Thanks for an obvious (but overlooked) practice ground! 🙂

  4. Loved all the photos and the words. We didn’t do Disneyland until 2 years ago. I’m glad we waited. My youngest was 8 and oldest was 12. We had a blast. Off season is the way to go. How do you always come up with all these ideas for posts. So impressed. 🙂 Sam

    • solodialogue says:

      I’m so glad to hear you waited too! Eight sounds like a great age! You make it unanimous from everyone I’ve talked to that off-season is the way to go. Of course, the lines would be shorter so that makes perfect sense.

      Life comes up with posts, I just take notes. 😉

  5. We went to Disneyland before the diagnosis, but not before knowing that Henry is a runner and needs constant supervision. We used the leash (for this only and no other time) because I was in a panic the whole time. Daytime was hard with the crowds, but when we went back at night – it was really magical. Something about being out at night is calming (even among the crowds of people). Henry loved the lights, watching the “It’s a Small World” castle, playing in the little park at Toon Town. We beat it out of there during the fireworks – just a tip if Tootles is sensitive to sounds.

    The state fair is a great idea for practice! We just went to ours and it was a nice evening with the family! Love the pictures – Tootles is just too cute!

    • solodialogue says:

      I often thought of using one of those backpack “leads” for Tootles when he was Henry’s age. I could never find one anywhere. Now, he doesn’t need it but I still watch him like a hawk because he has NO peripheral vision.

      It’s nice to know that the night time was calmer for Henry (and in relation to the crowds!) Toots is intermittent on his sensitivity to sound – he will not blink an eye at a fire drill or the blenders at Jamba Juice but if I turn the blender on at home? Freak out! Weird, that, and hard to predict.

      Glad you enjoyed your fair! I’m looking forward (well- sort of..) to ours! 🙂

  6. eof737 says:

    Wherever you decide to go, just don’t announce on your blog that you are away… 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Very important advice! I’m surprised when I see people post that on FB although I don’t usually see it on a blog unless the blogger is pretty “anonymous”. Thank you, Elizabeth for the reminder. 🙂

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