A Special Place in Our Hearts
There are many reasons why our autism family loves Disney so much.
Just like every other Disney-loving family on earth, we like it for the same reasons: magical stories, fun songs, cool merchandise and a place to meet beloved Disney characters.
For us, as well as for many other families who have autistic children, Disney means much more. It’s significance stretches far beyond a personal hobby.
It is a tool to motivate person growth…
…the inspiration for creativity and self-expression…
…and respite from a world drowning in a lack of faith in one another.
Disney is a major part of our family’s journey to understanding autism, meeting its challenges, and using it’s gifts toward a fulfilling life.
Classic Disney Love
Hard to believe, but Mickey Mouse is 90-years-old.
His birthday was celebrated by young kids whose generation is perhaps the 6th one to live through a world filled with Disney.
My baby-boomer mom remembers tuning in every Sunday night to Uncle Walt. She would watch enthralled as he stirred up excitement about his Disneyland project and TV shows.
In the 80s, I was raised on the Classics (Snow White, Bambi, etc.) when VHS home video tapes came out. Just like everyone else, I grew up having a fairly stable appreciation for the Disney movies.
But I had nothing in the realm of a full-blown Disney obsession.
And then I had kids. With autism.
A Disney Education
Naturally, like most parents, I would buy the Disney DVDs to watch with my young kids. It was comforting to know that our love of the movies would be shared and hopefully be something over which to bond throughout the years.
But my kids’ appreciation for the films took on a totally different meaning.
My son’s story…
My toddler son would stand in front of the TV and mimic the characters, both in action and language. Then, with the remote firmly in hand, he would hit play, pause, rewind…again and again.
I started getting pretty concerned that TV watching would be a dysfunctional activity, turning him into a parrot without the ability to conduct two-way speech interaction. It was hard enough to get him to mimic ME.
But then around the age of 5, he clicked on the closed caption feature. I realized that by doing this he could follow along with the language.
He actually started speaking and understanding language better by listening to the dialogue, following the visual scene, and then reading off the words.
Huh! Perhaps it wasn’t so dysfunctional after all, because now we could understand one another.
My daughter’s story…
My daughter was different. Both receptive and expressive language have always been harder for her.
She would also want full control of the remote…play, pause, rewind…play, pause, rewind.
But she was more engaged with the visual aspects of the film. She often paused much longer to study the film, often to find something funny about the way the characters’ faces froze on screen in very contorted ways.
Then she had me want to draw them out.
For a while I did this for her. My skills weren’t fantastic, but I was proud of a few.
But at some point, I had enough. I could not spend hours drawing for her.
“You do it!” I told her. Begrudgingly, she did.
Thus, her passion began for drawing movie figures. To this day she draws at least 10 different unique characters and scenes, every single day.
This helps her understand emotions, social intent and language much better than just listening to me drone on.
Disney was the tool to overcome several autism-related challenges. This is a big reason why our autism family loves Disney.
Disney became a life-line connecting me with my kids in ways I hadn’t imagined.
For them, watching the Disney movies meant learning language and social interaction skills.
Speech therapists often used Disney characters and themes to motivate my kids to learn new skills. Often they would bring out Disney-themed games to teach certain aspects of speech and sentence structure.
Later, my son honed his public speaking skills by role-playing as a Disney park tour guide.
His therapists posted pictures of the Walt Disney World attractions around the hallways. He practiced one-way speech along with two-way communication through Q&A exercises. Through this he learned how to appropriately interact with others through a passionate topic.
Disney was the motivational tool to promote social-developmental growth in my autistic kids.
Discover the power of Disney to open up worlds for a young man with autism: “
You can find out more about him through the documentary.
Ready to Take the Next Leap
I didn’t plan on loving the Disney so much myself. That is, not until we took a Walt Disney World vacation.
It took nearly a year convincing my husband that we could somehow manage to have a good time, despite the fact that I was very unsure myself.
My kids loved going to science centers, zoos and other family-oriented places. But if something didn’t go their way or they were getting sensory overload, they had “problematic behaviors” such as:
- · throwing themselves on the floor
- · screaming
- · not following direction
- · not able to be redirected
- · running off, etc.
I had to constantly monitor their movements. What always promised to be a fun-filled day left me totally exhausted.
Would going to Walt Disney World possible any different, perhaps even worse?
Then, a very resourceful friend told me about the accommodations that Walt Disney World offered at its parks. With this information, and the fact that my parents would also go to the parks with us to lend a hand, we summoned the courage to book the trip.
We decided to add extras to our trip, such as character dining and Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique for my six-year-old daughter. With fingers-crossed we hoped that living out the Disney movies in the attractions would ensure success.
The Magic of Meeting the Mouse in Person
Boy, did it ever!
My kids behaved so well considering the sensory stimulation that I could hardly believe it.
I suppose that if Disney worked before at home as a motivational tool, it made sense that they did much better than expected at the “home for Disney”.
Sure, we were all exhausted after long park days. But having grandparents along who understood my kids’ special needs well was immensely beneficial.
We have since taken more Walt Disney World vacations. For every trip my kids step out of their comfort zones to try more thrilling attractions. And their obsession with Disney just grows.
Another reason why we love Disney so much?
Experiencing Disney magic at the park enabled my kids to build self-confidence and self-help skills.
Taking the Disney Magic Home
Now that they are teenagers they have developed artistic skills based around their love of the movies and books.
My son writes fan fiction based on the Kingdom Keeper series.
My daughter creates comics based on her own original take on some Disney characters.
Vacationing at Walt Disney World is not just a place to have fun. It inspires creativity and family bonding long past our trips.
That “magical” feeling about being at Disney drove me to stay connected to other moms through various social media sites.
I especially was drawn to other families with special needs looking to plan Disney vacations. I loved being able to give them advice and encourage their dreams.
In addition, I dove deep into learning more about the history of Disney parks and all they have to currently offer.
My heart led me to apply as a travel professional, which is what I am today.
For this I am forever thankful we stepped out of our comfort zones, pushed past our fears and leapt into a new experience. The benefits have been life-changing.
Our love of Disney has inspired us to stretch ourselves developing new skills in new pursuits.
Experience the Magic of Disney for Yourself
So many families with autism have created memories and stronger bonds during their trips to Walt Disney World because they did the same.
They have also witnessed amazing growth in their special needs while on a Disney vacation. Some even progress faster while they visit the parks than weeks in therapy.
Is it time you did, too?
Experience the “Disney magic” on autism for yourself!
It’s especially important for families with special needs to plan strategically based on the needs of your autistic child or adult. With solid preparation you can mitigate the potential for problems that may occur during your trip.
Let me guide you toward experiencing the magic. I can offer offering beneficial special needs planning tips and create a customized Disney vacation for your family.
Contact me for a free consultation!
May your vacation wishes come true!