Walt+Disney+World+with+Autism by xuyuzhu


									                                           Walt Disney World
                    Advice for Managing with Autism at Disney World
                                      Interview with Donna Lorman,
                            President of the Autism Society of Greater Orlando

GACS: When you’re going to a Disney park, a Guest Assistance Card is a necessity. It will help
minimize time spent in attraction lines, and it can often reduce the need for waiting in crowds. The
problem she’s heard repeatedly is that although most of those with autism are visibly symptomatic, those
who are higher functioning may not be believed by Disney staff when requesting a GAC. She
recommends that if the autism is not easily apparent; bring a doctor’s statement or some type of
documentation to confirm the autism.

Although Disney says that documentation is not required for a GAC, they are also trying to reduce abuse
of the system by those who fake it because they think they’ll have shorter waits for attractions with a
GAC. Donna receives around 5-10 complaints a year from people who were turned down for a GAC
because the Disney Cast members didn’t believe the child had autism.

If the autism is readily apparent, particularly if there are obvious verbal or communication issues, she
suggests that you may get your GAC more easily if you have your child speak to the Disney cast
member. Have the child request the GAC. Most kids have enunciation issues or verbalizing issues and it
will be obvious. If you get the child involved in the request process it can go much smoother.

Another benefit of the GAC is that it allows you to enter through the handicapped entrances for
attractions that have them. Use this whenever possible. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, it
can allow those with motor issues more time to get in and out of the ride cars.

Character Dining: Donna highly recommends the character meals, especially in the hotels. Autistic
children usually adore the characters and the character meals. While you can see the characters in the
parks, at the restaurants you get individualized attention. They come to your table, so you don’t have to
wait in long lines at the park to have your child interact with a character. Though the character meals are
expensive, this convenience alone makes it worth the money.

Even with a GAC, at character appearances in the parks you will wait at least 45 minutes and sometimes
longer in line to reach the character. Although on occasion Donna has found that a GAC can get you right
to head of line, often the cast members won’t do this for you and you’ll have to wait in line with everyone
else. Some autistic kids just don’t do well waiting in lines. The character meal is a great solution.

Donnas’ favorite character restaurant is Chef Mickey’s. Although it’s pricey she feels it’s worth it because
everyone is so supportive. It’s extremely kid-friendly, and it’s very loud because there are usually a lot of
kids. With this in mind, if your child has a “meltdown” or exhibits vocal stimulation, they will fit in.

Tell your waiter about the child’s condition and they’ll notify the characters, who will behave accordingly.
They will even give special attention to your child. Pick a restaurant based on what characters you
prefer. Different restaurants have different characters. Most Disney restaurants are helpful at
accommodating special dietary needs, but Donna finds that Chef Mickey’s is particularly great. They will
even bring food in from other restaurants even though it’s a buffet. She finds that it’s much harder to get
food accommodations in park restaurants than in the hotel restaurants, especially at a buffet.

Quick Meals: At Magic Kingdom one restaurant that can be especially suitable for a quick meal is
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland. They serve chicken and French fries, as well as
hamburgers and salads. Donna finds that the majority of kids with autism seem to consistently want
chicken and French fries. This restaurant has that, along with alternatives for the rest of the family. In
Epcot, the Electric Umbrella Restaurant in Future World has chicken and French fries. In Hollywood
Studios try the ABC Commissary.
Water parks: Make sure you’re there first thing in the morning. They often get so busy that you won’t get
a shaded area for shelter unless you arrive early. Another reason to be there at opening time is that the
parks sometimes reach maximum capacity very fast, and they can close to new visitors very early. Often
autistic children will have a meltdown if turned away. Arriving early can prevent a disappointing and
difficult situation.

Live Shows: Autistic kids seem to love most live Disney shows. They’re fascinated with the music,
dancing singing and characters. The music shows are especially great for them. When you enter the park
get a map and schedule to see when the shows are. Around the holidays they have multiple shows with
characters, including Santa with music and singing. Kids love it!

Some shows are outside with no actual seating, but if a show is in a place where there is seating, use a
GAC. This will enable you to request seating at the front of the theater. Show your GAC to a cast
member and request to sit up front. These shows can be packed and by sitting in the front you’ll have
extra space. Autistic kids get overwhelmed with body to body seating and crowds, and this will minimize
this. For live shows they usually seat those with GACs and wheelchairs first, and then they bring in the
crowds waiting in the regular queue. By using the handicapped entrance you’ll be cutting down your
child’s exposure to crowds.

According to Donna, one live show that seems to have worked miracles for kids with autism is Turtle Talk
with Crush In The Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion. This attraction has guests interacting live with an
animated turtle. There are numerous occasions when non-verbal children began to speak and interacted
with Crush. Disney has now approved and funded a research project which will seek to determine why.
Children with autism consistently love Disney, and the project will also look at what makes Disney World
so captivating and engaging to them. Donna will be working with Disney on this project.

Her son who has autism loves the Beauty and the Beast and Muppets 3-D at Hollywood Studios. She
notes that often kids with autism will put the glasses on and they’ll cover their ears. They will also put
their thumbs in ears and their pinky’s in their mouths. They’re overwhelmed and they may rock gently, but
they’ll calm down. If she says “hands down” to her son, he’ll put his hands down and watch the show.
Although the sensory effects in some of the other shows will often bother kids with autism, these shows
seem to get a consistently good response from them.

Her son was absolutely terrified in Stitch’s Great Escape in Magic Kingdom. He hated the shoulder
restraint. He also has great difficulty with Honey I shrunk the Audience, a 3-D show in Epcot. The
sensory effects are overwhelming for him.

Parades: Use the GAC for parades to sit in the handicapped area with the wheelchairs. Kids with autism
usually can’t sit and wait for long periods, and people start lining up for the parades as much as two
hours before they begin. Donna has found that if you wait about 30 minutes before the parade begins to
take your place, there may be no place left to sit with a good view. Sometimes they’ll have space in a
wheelchair area and they’ll let you in if you have a GAC.

Park preferences: There is a definite trend in park preferences among kids with autism, according to
Donna. She’s not certain why, but Animal Kingdom is consistently their least favorite park. She
speculates that one reason may be their hypersensitivity to smell, which may make them uncomfortable
with the smell of the animals.

Here are the parks in order of the most favored to the least, according to Donnas’ observation:

1. Magic Kingdom
2. Hollywood Studios
3. Epcot
4. Animal kingdom
Downtown Disney: Donna feels this shopping, dining and entertainment area is often overlooked and
not to be missed. There is a lot for the kids to do here. For example, they love the Once Upon a Toy
store. If you’re one of first people there in the morning, your child can start up one of the toys on the
ceiling. If they do start a toy, they will also receive a certificate and a small gift toy. Donnas’ son Drew
started the electric train by flipping the switch, and he was given a little locomotive with a certificate. She
says he was absolutely “lit up”, and was actually shaking because he was so excited.

If you wish to have your child start a toy, ask a cast member. This is especially necessary if you have an
older child. Drew is 16 years old, so they have to seek out a cast member and make the request.
Otherwise they are usually overlooked.

In Downtown Disney is a restaurant called Rainforest Café, which is a huge hit with autistic kids. Her child
is so enthralled that his mouth never closes while he’s there!

The massive World of Disney store is great fun for everyone. There is a beauty shop called Bibbidi
Bobbidi Boutique. Girls three and older are treated to a princess makeover. Though it’s not usually
appropriate for kids with autism, it may be a great treat for siblings. Donna notes that the siblings needs
often take a back seat to the autistic child’s needs. She feels it’s essential to allow them time to enjoy the
things of Disney that they particularly want.

The Lego Imagination Center is a store where that will really entertain your children. In addition to
viewing the amazing Lego creations already built, you can design your own. Donna recommends that you
let them have some time to build and use their imagination — they love this.

The Autism Society of Greater Orlando can be found here: www.asgo.org

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