We are Disney World patrons for life. Our trip last month (which feels like years ago already) was Nate’s fourth visit. We first attended the parks when Nate was 11 months old; it was the prize for an award that Chad won at work. That was before Nate was diagnosed with autism and we were completely captivated by the corporate philosophy that “there are no problems.” Whatever we needed, we had and it was done with a smile. Fast forward to Nate’s diagnosis and the customer service went through the roof. Our subsequent trips demonstrated (if one can believe it) an ever greater level of customer service designed to ensure that Nate can equally enjoy the parks with everyone else there.
This time, in addition to the guest assistance pass (see our June 2012 post for details), we also received a wheelchair pass for Nate’s stroller. Nate weighs 35 pounds and that’s a lot to hold while waiting in line for attractions that don’t utilize the guest assistance pass, particularly Nate’s favorite ride ever, It’s a Small World. With the wheelchair pass, we stood in a special line where Nate could remain in his stroller. When it was our turn, we parked the stroller at the exit and hopped right into the ride. (And, in case you’re wondering, for those who were unable to exit their wheelchairs, they had accommodations for those folks, too!) Nate could also remain in his stroller for special attractions like The Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom. On our last trip, we tried this one but Nate freaked out at the giant crowd waiting to get inside the auditorium and we had to leave. This time, we were whisked away to a special entrance and parked in a wider width aisle that gave us more personal space from other patrons. Which led to this magical discovery: Nate will watch a show. Watch a show. He happily sat in his stroller or curled up in our laps and enjoyed the quiet action, which has rekindled hope that Nate might be able to attend (more than the preview portion of) a sensory friendly film showing at the cinema.
When we go to Disney World, Chad and I are always reminded that Nate is great at being a kid. At age 3, Nate’s life is consumed with 32 hours of therapy a week, basically a full-time job. As he approached four, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate what every toddler should do — play, eat, laugh, and enjoy life. No better place to do that than at Disney World.
Many kids on the autism spectrum have sensory processing issues and difficulty with specific textures, which can affect their ability to eat and swallow. We are grateful that Nate is a champion eater; in fact, his teachers get a kick out of how much he will eat! Though he does have some food texture issues (cooked tomatoes and tomato sauce are no-gos), Nate has a pretty adventurous palate. For example, one of his favorite foods is hummus! We always buy the Disney Dining Plan, which allows us to order pretty much whatever we want without worry about the price. This often means Chad and I order foods that we don’t normally eat at home and, on this trip, Nate demonstrated a spontaneous willingness to try some new things. Turns out Nate can’t get enough of polenta. And, like me, Nate’s in love with the Greek cheese bechamel sauce on the pastitsio at Cat Cora’s Kouzzina. We were also there during the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and each country had a pop-up restaurant inspired by its garden. Nate devoured a potato pancake from Bauernmarkt in the German pavilion. Nate also got his fair share of favorite foods including Mickey Mouse pancakes, muffins, hummus, and a million and one apples.
Disney World also has professional photographers who will take your picture at all of the iconic spots. Each time we go, we try to get a family portrait, which really shows us how much Nate has grown! We also decided to get Nate’s silhouette cut each time we visit. The two below are twenty months apart (September 2011 and May 2013); we were totally surprised to see such a difference!
Usually these breaks from routine bring about big developmental milestones but, this time, we went a bit backward. It’s been about three weeks since we returned and we haven’t had a win on the potty — at school or at home. Nate has only slept through the night once — with or without melatonin. On the other hand, he rejoined the school routine seamlessly, which surprised us all.
Of all the pictures we took (700 and counting), this is my favorite one. When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom on our first day there, we hopped onto the People Mover, one of Nate’s very favorite rides, and he spontaneously began to sign his version of “happy.” We’re already planning our next trip — date to be determined but it will be some time in 2014, maybe when Chad gets his master’s degree from Yale. Until then, we’re trying to hang on to the Disney magic in our every day lives!