Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Walt Disney World Autism-Style

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Walt Disney World Autism-Style

Article excerpt

So my plea to the Disney Corporation is this...

Create a system or two that will work with every person on the spectrum's incredibly individualized needs.

Tailor accommodations to each person whenever possible.

Work with us simply because every family deserves some fun.

It's dawn, and I can already hear the "eeee" of my ten-year-old son with severe autism reverberate throughout the house. So I hustle faster to quell his enthusiasm just a bit so my six-year-old son with mild autism can get a bit more sleep. I haven't rested well myself and am already anxious, as this is a day of many "firsts" for the McCafferty clan. Within the next 24 hours, my eldest son will take his first plane ride, sleep in a bed other than his own (which he has done only three times in the last seven years), and will hopefully be able to break out of his daily routine enough to learn to like Disney World.

I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you my fingers, toes, and any extremity possible weren't crossed on all counts.

I will share with you that I'm also worried about the two-and-a-half hour plane rides (and worried all of us, mother, father, brother and entourage) won't sleep for one hundred consecutive hours. However, I'm mostly concerned about the new program for guests with disabilities, which I've heard is fraught with issues for our community.

From what I understand from representatives at Disney, as well as friends with children in the spectrum who have previously visited the park, in the past, children with autism and their families were able to gain access to any ride, any time, as often as desired, through the fast pass lane. Unfortunately, this program has since been discontinued due to widespread abuse. I have heard that some families hired individuals with disabilities to accompany them into the park in order to have access to this program. The behavior of those individuals was reprehensible, and my only solace is that they hopefully are no longer able to "fake their way" into any of Disney's rides or attractions.

Amen to that.

Overall I have to say we found success with the new plan, which required us to attain a Disability Access Service Card (DAS card) at the beginning of our trip, a card which would last for up to 14 days, and work in any of Disney's theme parks. We were told we could acquire the pass at Guest Relations prior to entering the park, but the line at 8:45 in the morning was reminiscent of a combination of the post office and the DMV, so we chose to circumvent that option. Instead we entered

the Magic Kingdom and went immediately to City Hall, where a cute Frenchman immediately accosted us and asked how he could be of assistance. I admit, the accent threw me for a bit.

Once I got past the "cute factor" I quickly explained that we had a child with severe autism in our family, and presented Justin for inspection. No medical documents were required (in fact, don't bother bringing any, Disney won't look at them due to legal restrictions). I held my breath a bit as I wondered briefly exactly how much training Pierre had in recognizing disabilities in children (no, his name wasn't Pierre, it's just my favorite French name, bear with me). Our Disney representative literally looked him up and down with what appeared to be quite a discerning eye, then revealed our fate--we, too, could be the bearers of a crisp green and white Disability Access Card. Justin was asked to pose for a picture (his disdain for this "photo op" was readily apparent on the card), then Pierre filled me in on the details.

So here's the scoop on the new card, some of which my Frenchman shared with me, and some I picked up from Disney employees at various attractions and during a customer service call. The way it works is that one member of the group physically goes up to the ride attraction (they do not have to have the person with the disability with them), and if there is a wait of 20 minutes or less, their entire entourage is granted access to the fast pass lane, with the caveat that the person with the disability must be in attendance. …

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