We took the whole family to Disneyland for my daughter's 3rd birthday last Saturday. As is the case with most 3 year-olds, Jade is obsessed with all things Disney. We like to think it's because she was born at Providence St. Joseph's hospital in Burbank with a view of, you guessed it, the Disney Studios, but whatever. It's a talking mouse. Ever since she learned there was a place that Mickey and Minnie and Pluto and Princesses actually hang out, we've heard of nothing else.
So Jade has made it clear for the last 6 or so months what she intends to do for her 3rd birthday... we were welcome to join her, but she was going to meet Minnie, dammit.
So, what do we do with Jack. All children deserve to go to Disneyland in their lifetimes, right? He's been super aggressive and non-compliant recently, so we knew it would be a nightmare. We thought of splitting them up, but neither my wife nor I wanted to miss Jade meeting Minnie, so we bit the bullet... We took our kids to Disneyland.
Disneyland has a very cool policy I'd heard/read about for guests (not just children) with special needs. It's called a "guest assistance card" and it allows you and your party (up to 8, I think, maybe just 6) to avoid most of the lines and get on rides near the front. Most of the blogs and anecdotes I've read about this situation include tales of horrid policy abuse as well. Tales of park guests yelling at special needs families... "He doesn't look that disabled to me" "What, is your money better than mine?" "He can walk, he can stand in line" etc. Nonetheless, and armed with clever answers to those taunts, we registered for our guest assistance card.
So, since my wife does not like rollercoasters, and my little sensory seeker loves them. We split up in the park with the kids... and Jack did perfect! We waited in line for about an hour for the Matterhorn (an E ticket ride for you old-schoolers). He even introduced himself to the 7 year-old girl in front of us in that line. He was a bit "stimmy" between rides and at lunch, but in lines (regardless of the length) he was perfect. My wife took him on Pirates, twice. And I got to take my baby girl to meet Minnie (which you have to wait in line for about an hour to do now... she used to walk the streets back in the day). I got to watch the princess parade with my little princess, moments I am glad I did not miss.
So all of the planning and worrying of the stigma of the guest assistance card were thrown out the window. It was easy as pie.
But I want to talk about registering for said card (and I urge ANY of you to do it). We came prepared. We brought his diagnosis paperwork with us, just in case it was denied. You go to the "guest services" building on Main Street and, you guessed it, wait in line. You get to stand in a line with other disabled families. Silently judging them and yourself. Wondering who is and who isn't "faking" it. And you get to deal with your own personal guilt for asking yourself those questions.
We get to the front of the line and my wife says we need a pass for our autistic son. "We don't give out passes based on diagnosis alone, what are your concerns"?
Now, I'm sure Disney is not going to open themselves up to the liability of denying disability access. I'm positive that the girl behind the desk did not have the power to deny anyone a pass, but I thought to myself... "What an interesting question"? My wife instantly rattled off our concerns; elopement, aggression, over-stimulation, etc. and we were issued the pass.
If a family was "faking" it to get a pass, they would not be able to answer that question right away. I laughed to myself as I thought of some mom or dad fumbling with an answer... "ummm... he's autistic?".
What a great screener question. Well played, Disney, well played.
Disney was an adventure. It was crowded. It was expensive. There was a lot of re-direction and "time away" at times.
And every one of you parents should absolutely do it in your lifetime.
Otherwise I would have missed this.
And regretted it for the rest of my life.