Is it possible for a kid to NOT like Disney?
We took Henry to Disneyland when he was FREE (the summer before his third birthday) with his two older sisters; He seemed a bit agitated for most of the day. We took turns watching him, buying him bubbles, and riding a few rides. We were not really convinced he liked it. Back then — we suspected he had ASD but we were not 100% sure. The crowds… the noise… and the stimulation — that is always a little painful for me; but it’s way more painful for someone with sensory issues and/or someone on the spectrum! Now that he is almost five years old….Should we try it again?
Seth had a break from work in late January — so we thought since it was a “non-prime time” time (fewer crowds) we would go for just the day….and give it a shot!
His first entrance through the gate as a paid customer!
New experiences are tough on Henry. They are accompanied by a lot of anxiety, and repetitive questions; if the anxiety escalates — there is loud screaming and uncontrollable tantrums. From an on-looker he just looks like a “bratty kid” who misbehaves. That is one of the hard things about Henry’s ASD….it’s invisible.
We brought copies of his ASD test results, and birth certificate, and sought out Guest Services; they didn’t need to look at our papers though– they have a different way of assessing one’s need for help. (Yes– there are too many “scammers” out there)!
Seth was a little reluctant to ask, he thought Henry had made so much progress over the last year — maybe he would be OK. And we tried to prepare as much as possible.
I had put “Disney” on his weekly visual calendar at home, and we told him all about it! We pre-purchased our tickets and did our research. I got Henry to watch a little of the old-school Disney movies on Netflix. We watched a little of Dumbo (and I explained that there was going to be a Dumbo ride)! And he even liked the “Aristocats” movie! It’s challenging getting him to watch a new movie though. He loves the repetition of his newer “go-to” movies.
Then we talked about Disneyland….and talked and talked! We talked about rides and Mickey and all the characters; we went on-line and showed him everything on our computer. We downloaded the free Disney app that shows all the wait times for each attraction. Then we bought him a new Mickey shirt (his older one was getting very small) and a little stuffed Mickey character to play with. I brought along Henry’s favorite hat (that covers his ears to block out noise) and his I-Pad; Then I packed my “mom bag” for the park!
To a little boy — Disneyland is BIG! He was pretty scared! In retrospect I should have gotten Henry to color a few Disneyland coloring sheets before we went. Every time I went to the store though I couldn’t find any! I always found GIRL Disney coloring books, with plenty of princesses, and Minnie characters– but I just wanted a gender neutral Disney-Mickey-Goofy-Minnie-Donald-cool-not on cheap newsprint paper-coloring book.
…..he was scared to pass through the admission gates. But once we got him in — we went right to Guest Services. We met with a wonderful cast member named Kelsey. We needed to spend a lot of time with her, and pretty much establish a rapport with her so Henry knew we could trust this new environment. Henry also needed his I-Pad (to play a familiar game). I knew if he found out Kelsey’s age — he would like that too. That makes him feel good. He usually asks young people their age when he meets them. And he loves numbers. Once Henry found out Kelsey was 22, he felt a lot better. Then Kelsey got us off to a horse and trolly ride; Henry loved it; he started to warm up! We had done motor trollies before at The Grove in L.A. — so this was a familiar feeling to him. He also loves horses and ponies.
Seth and I were both so excited! Feelings and overwhelming happiness from our own childhood experience at Disney flooded our system. I don’t think Henry will have those exact same feelings though…..but he did have fun! Here’s how I think it went:
Children of similar age (to Henry): Thrilled to enter the park, they skip and run towards the park…anticipation! Happy screams!
Henry: Anxious about entering the park. The park looks enormous. He is quiet and afraid. He walks very slow.
Children of similar age: They WANT to meet Mickey and all of the characters! They feel so connected to these cute/furry/friendly characters. Some kiddos want autographs. There’s a WOW factor!
Henry: He wanted to run away from the characters….”they are scary”….he does not want a picture with them. He screams. He screams when daddy takes a picture with Chip ‘n Dale. They look very BIG, especially Goofy — Goofy is enormous!
Children of similar age: Ready to ride the rides! Let’s go!
Henry: Reluctant to try a ride…he looks for something familiar …something he can feel comfortable on. He verbalizes thoughts about going home, but wants to stay and have fun. He is at odds with his emotions.
Children of similar age: They are in line for their favorite ride.
Henry: Lines are hard; They can cause anxiety. Guest services helps us by using their technology (and compassion) to get Henry on a popular ride with very little wait time. They want him to be able to access the park and have fun!
Children of similar age: They don’t notice all of the loud piped in music and announcements and sound effects…and crowd noise.
Henry: He needs his hat which covers his ears (he prefers this over the noise canceling headphones).
Children of similar age: Enter the amazing candy stores to look for a tasty treat. The rows and rows of cotton candies, sweets and lollypops are truly a work of art!
Henry: Enters the candy stores to look at ceiling fans. He doesn’t even care about the confections. He never asks us for candy or ice cream or treats.
Children of similar age: Enjoy the park for what it is: pretend / play / fantasy.
Henry: Anything that is pretend play or fantasy doesn’t make any sense.
Children (boys) of similar age: Goof off in line, and use pretend guns and lose themselves in the fantasy.
Henry: (looking at them like) What are they doing?
Children of similar age: on rides – ex. Pirates of the Caribbean — Enjoy the fantasy the ride is providing. Pretend fire, guns, shots are cool! They laugh, and become amused.
Henry: on Pirates of the Caribbean — Why is it dark in here? Is it day or night? (It seems like night but it is daytime outside). Why are the pirates fighting? Why are we going through a cannonball fight? Why does that one pirate seem so angry? Why are they firing off shots and cannons….the water is splashing. It’s loud. That is scary. Why are we riding through something scary like burning buildings. “I want to get out”…..”Is it over?”
Children of similar age :on Big Thunder Mountain (roller coaster): They seem to enjoy the ride.
Henry on Thunder Mountain: Why is this going so loud, fast, and crazy and swirly…. Why is there (pretend fire) in here. What are those loud noises? This seems scary. This seems too fast.
(pictured below) Henry is covering his ears on Big Thunder Mountain. It’s LOUD!
What did we ride?
1. Disneyland Monorail System 2. Disneyland Railroad 3. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (he loved it)!! 4. Tarzan’s Treehouse 5. “Astro Orbitor” (Rockets spinning) 6. Dumbo (spinning) 7. King Arthur Carrousel (spinning) 8. Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse (and other interactive play structures in Toontown). 9. Circus Train Jungle Cruise 10. Mad Tea Party (tea cups) spinning 11. a random elevator in Tomorrow Land 12. Jungle Cruise (he hated the loud noises and loud shots firing with splashing). 13. Thunder Mountain (just a little fast and scary) 14. Pirates of the Caribbean (he was so excited as we were waiting in line but he didn’t seem to like it at all once we were on)…..we didn’t try the rest of the attractions because Henry didn’t seem interested in them, or he refused, or he wanted to repeat the rides he enjoyed — over and over. The Haunted Mansion was closed this day.
He is screaming at me to get in — no pictures!
We had plenty of anxiety attacks and yelling; it was really tough transitioning him from attraction to attraction.
How Do We Cope?
We need to move at a slow pace.
Seth and I both want to talk to him together — but just one of us talking works best.
We needed to sit down in quiet spots.
We need to take breaks, talk, give Henry reassurance.
We needed to find ceiling fans. We sat in a Coke/Candy Shop, had some pretzels, and just looked at ceiling fans. It was nice and quiet.
We just sat for a while!
We needed to hang out at where Henry felt comfortable. Many times it was here at Tarzan’s Tree House; We did this attraction several times.
He loved this Tarzan rope!
We (as parents) have to be really, really patient. We are ready to move on, but he is not.
We have to skip the public bathrooms; we either have to go back to the hotel so Henry can pee, or he “holds it”.
We wait in lines that seem manageable (some lines are really long but move) so we wait and move and it doesn’t seem so bad.
We wait in lines that have a wait time of 10 minutes or less.
I alternated hats for Henry; I used the ear covering hat most of the day, but sometimes I put on his baseball hat….just to try to get him used to the noise for a little while.
We get help.
I can’t say enough about the sweet cast member, Kelsey at Guest Services. She was a pleasant, dedicated and compassionate worker who really went the extra mile to help us and help Henry feel comfortable. They can help families who have autistic children.
Kelsey did more of an interview with us — unfortunately some people lie to get disability benefits.
ASD can make one very anxious and impulsive; Disney will do something like a “fast pass” for the (claustrophobic) lines. These types of lines cause Henry to have tantrums that are unpleasant for everyone.
Oh, I finally found that super cool Disney coloring book on nice white paper (at the Disney gift shop). We’ll take that home and color the pages/talk about Disney.
There’s Mickey! But we can not go near him! We’ll “color” him at home instead!