Monday, September 23, 2013

On Disney and Disability

We go to Disney roughly every year, year and a half. And George is definitely disabled: severe Tourette syndrome, acute OCD and anxiety more than qualify him.

But here's the thing: we have never actually used the Disabled Guests program.

Let me be upfront, though -- we don't dash through the parks. Because we know how George works and what can be frustrating for him, we choose to make our leisure trips, well, leisurely. This means letting him get enough sleep, even if he misses the morning Magic Hours. If he decides he is "done" at 1 PM and wants to go back to the resort to swim away the afternoon, either my husband or I goes while the other adult stays in the parks with George's older brother. Both courses have their perks, so truthfully, we've never had any issue with splitting up so everyone can have a rewarding vacation. To that end, we often split up inside a park, so that those feeling more adventurous can enjoy some of Disney's more thrilling rides and George and his parental unit of the moment can go on The Great Movie Ride four times in a row. Hypothetically.

We also don't try to squeeze everything into one or two days. That's difficult for even the most robust of children, much less those with differences. We drive those 11 hours to Orlando, but then we stay six or seven nights, though we don't go into the parks the day of our arrival nor the day of our departure. En route, everyone shares at least one "At Disney, I really want to..." wish, and we make sure those happen. (This last trip George's wish was to have his hair cut in the barber shop on Main Street first thing on his birthday, which was the day after we arrived. It was such a very George wish.)

It's not that George's differences disappear when we're at Disney. But -- and I am so sorry I cannot explain it -- they just seem to fade when we're there. Among the riotous array of colors and music and cultures and the sheer joy that is Disney, something simultaneously inexplicable and wonderful happens. I'm resisting the phrase the magic of Disney, but hi, the magic of Disney.

While crowds swirl around us, our family silently celebrates George taking chances he would never take at home, trying new foods (even ones that touch!), and greeting new experiences enthusiastically. When we still had Occupational Therapy, one of my favorite joys was coming back from Disney and sharing all the amazing moments with George's therapist. She and I would be awed by the sheer bravery of Disney George.

Our family also revels in experiencing things at Disney we probably would not were George not with us. George's love of history, which renders him socially awkward at home, is well fed in Orlando. He delights in The Carousel of Progress, Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, and the whole of Main Street. And he shows us things at Disney we would never have noticed on our own. George's eye for detail is incredible, and Disney World is a paradise of hidden Mickeys and many cleverly wrought items.

There have been times George's challenges reared up suddenly, though. One moment from the first day of our first trip stands out in my memory. While we waited to ride the teacups, George, then barely five, began twisting and hopping. The fact that his tics were ramping up should have been a clue for me, but I was frankly caught up in looking around and missed it. As we approached the ride entrance, he panicked and began to melt down because as people entered, they began moving more quickly then he is able, taking all the "purple" (lavender) cups. I bent down to reassure him, and when I looked up, we were at the front of the line. "It's very important that we have a purple teacup," I said to the Cast Member, trying to imbue as much meaning into the words as I could. I braced myself for an eyeroll or a "Sorry, I can't do anything about that", but the Cast Member's response was an agreeable smile and "Certainly, please wait here a moment." He then walked around to find the last lavender teacup and waited to help George in, smiling as he shut the door securely. I almost cried as we rode.

That's when I knew we were in a good place, where George could be George, peculiar rules and all, and I could relax. I've never pursued any Disabled Guest classification, because I trust Disney to do what they do well for everyone, regardless. It's why we keep coming back to Disney World, and in six trips, they haven't let us down.


Dustin said...

Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the article.

Yarddawg said...


William Stachour said...

This post? Pure awesome. I've never been a Disney person meself, but suddenly it seems like a perfect thing.

State Girl said...

Our family always comments when we are headed to Disney that it is the "most magical place on earth" and then - when we hit the first potty break on our way home inevitably one of the girls say "Mommy, we're not in Disney anymore." It is a wonderful place for so many reasons.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful encounter. This exemplifies what I love about Disney. Good luck with your educational adventure.