Disney World? Yes You Can!

Walt Disney World traditionally has been every child’s dream vacation since I can remember.  Bustling with excitement, most families find planning such a vacation easy and filled with wonder. But for a child with Autism, hot, sweaty days filled with  minute-to-minute itineraries, large crowds, loud noises, and long wait times for rides is a recipe for disaster and sensory meltdown.
Great news! Disney is well equipped to handle the increasing number of guests with special needs, and their staff and Cast Members are extremely well trained to assist. Why can’t our schools be run like this? Ha ha :)
There is a degree of preparation of course that you can do at home to help with the overstimulation and potentially horrific encounters with giant stuffed versions of their favorite two-dimensional characters. A few weeks before your trip you can start visiting malls, festivals and other crowded gatherings if at all possible to help get your child accustomed to what is coming. Don’t overdo it!
Make sure you pack familiar toys, games, and favorite snacks to redirect your child. A portable DVD player or laptop and a Calmer By Nature DVD is great for decompressing in the hotel room at the end of the day! Be realistically prepared for the possibility of leaving the park early without upsetting the rest of the family. You should never make your child feel as if they are ruining your vacation because their body can’t handle stimulation!
Walt Disney World welcomes notes from the family doctor that describe your child’s situation. Though it’s not necessary, it will help expedite special accommodations with Guest Relations.
When you and your child check in with Guest Relations, they will issue a pass that is appropriate to the level of support needed. This pass does not exclude wait times on rides, however Walt Disney World is full of accommodations, some of which may not be immediately apparent. For meltdowns, ask any available Cast Member for the nearest quiet location. Family waiting rooms are available at some attractions, and there are first aid stations available, which offer some amount of solitude. A slow ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in the Magic Kingdom or a meal at a quiet sidewalk café in Epcot can also help to soothe the over-stimulation.
Be sure to get information on the rides and shows in advance. You know your child, and you know which things will entertain him and which ones may startle or terrify him. Cast Members and Staff are prepared for all types of questions pertaining to the rides and attractions and what your child will experience.
Do not try to pack too much into one day. The sensory stimulation can and often does lead to overload.  Despite your parental instincts to use your child’s favorite ride as a reward for good behavior throughout the day, it really makes the most sense to visit those rides in the park first. This allows the experience of riding multiple times with little to no wait, and also sets the tone and mood for a happy and successful day.
Have a plan, be flexible, ask for support, and most of all, enjoy your magical vacation at Walt Disney World!
I have not yet been, but bravo to Disney for stepping up with their accommodations! Because of their approach, this is one vacation we can actually put on our list with confidence!

Product Review: Calmer By Nature DVD

I first became aware of this amazing DVD through a LinkedIn connection with Barry Wheelock. We immediately connected and started talking about the product’s incredible (and surprising) benefits for Autism and Sensory Processing issues.

I invited Barry to speak during my Sensory Integration Teleseminar and received a copy of the 57-minute Calmer By Nature DVD to use at home. This film is pure and stunning nature footage – there are no people, no voiceovers, and no music.

The concept was created to simply relieve stress and anxiety; however it has turned into a powerful therapy supplement for people with Autism, Sensory issues, Dementia, Alzheimers, insomnia, and more. It is reliable, predictable, and safe, which are key elements for special needs patients. It even encourages communication and creates talking points for people that have difficulties with social skills and conversation. It’s also used by some of the top Occupational Therapists to aid with cognitive and behavioral therapy.

I was hoping for mild results at bedtime with my son, who can at times be-bop around like a whirling dervish until all hours of the night despite our best rituals. If the DVD helped that issue alone, it was worth the price!

What I experienced from the product far surpassed my expectations! Yes, it works at bed time just as I had hoped. It also:

  • Calms him before an outing he may be feeling anxious over
  • Redirects him during times of high stimulation
  • Provides him with short, 10-minute “cool down” times when he needs a sensory break
  • Gives him ideas for drawing and video creation projects
  • Starts conversations about the wildlife we see on the film

Surprisingly, my daughter also became an instant fan. She told me that it enhanced her creativity when drawing or writing new stories and helps her overcome her blocks. It’s definitely a nice change from the blaring TV shows that are sometimes over-prevalent in our home :)

For me, I typically have trouble shutting my mind off when I am amidst a task list that is pages long. The overwhelm can feel… well, overwhelming! The film brings me back into the now and offers a reprieve from my mental gymnastics.

In fact, I love this product so much that I am now able to offer it for purchase in the U.S. You can view a three-minute demo here and experience a bit o’ nature magic for yourself! I highly recommend Calmer By Nature for all ages, whether you’re dealing with Autism in your family or just want some stress relief. You won’t be disappointed.

I can’t wait to see the other projects Barry has in the works, including two more films, an Audio CD version, and an iPhone application.

… and That’s What Little Boys Are Made Of

Boys will be boysSometimes, I get so wrapped up in the classification and response to Autistic or sensory-seeking behavior that I forget my son is also just a little boy. Boys! They are traditionally single-focused by nature, mechanically curious, and frankly, they do a LOT of things without thinking of consequences. In fact, people love to ask me, “When did you know he was Autistic?” If I had a nickel… Honestly, I didn’t know there was a need to explore his mind until disruptive situations in pre-school began to present themselves. Why?

I had a girl first.

There are so many quirky behaviors that I absolutely can see now in hindsight; at the time I dismissed them as classic boy tendencies. After all, I have brothers. The difference being that mine were downright evil during childhood ; ) Doggie-doo down the back of my shirt, rocks at the core of well-packed snowballs… yes, pure brotherly evil. But I digress.

There were things I struggled with when my son was a toddler. Constant obsession with light switches, no visible fear from dangerous situations, disassembling an electrical outlet with his bare hands when thought to be in time-out, extreme hyperactivity, and more. Half the people in my life would tell me I should have him tested for something and the other half would say he was just being a typical boy. I had no firm evidence or experience to fall on either side of that fence. So I waited.

Fast Forward

I’ve walked the wondrous Autism road for the past four years – filled with research and questions and tests and observations – and I still struggle with that fence from time to time. My goal is to find that place where I am giving him support for the things he cannot do for himself and creating appropriate boundaries and lessons for the things he can control. What a grey area that is! It’s gotten easier with so much information at my disposal, but every child on the spectrum  is unique.

It is understandable that I turn to a checklist, a practiced response, or even an excuse when there are any waves in my house. When living with Autism day in and day out, when my routine is so labor-intensive, and going out to dinner (and actually completing my meal) makes me feel as accomplished as an Olympic medalist, I see why I am wrapped up in his special needs and odd behaviors.

Sometimes I need to take a step back and realize that he is just being a little boy.