So what really happened at Paultons Park? Well, you can read my previous post, and all of that did indeed happen, and it was a fab day out.
However, with a child with autism, and specifically for our girl with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance - read about that in a nutshell here), there's a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than just the 'usual'. Before even leaving the house, there's more planning than there would be if we were just taking our elder 'diagnosis-free' child for a day out. We have to be very clear in advance about what we expect to happen on the day - how long the car journey is, how long we will stay in the Park, which rides Sasha is tall enough to go on etc. We no longer use a visual timetable for her, and it's nice to be able to be a bit more flexible, but it still helps to show her pictures of where we are going or the website (Paultons Park has a great one - https://paultonspark.co.uk/). We try and prepare her for all eventualities and certainties - lots of people, noise, long queues and a limit to the spending are all mentioned of course.
Paultons Park has a great, exemplary policy for disabled visitors. They have a 'Queue Assist' scheme. As quoted on their website:
"We recognise that certain guests require additional assistance in order
to fully be able to enjoy their visit to the Park. Apart from all
the facilities mentioned above we also offer a special concession to
guests who may have difficulties in queueing. This may be due to
difficulties in understanding the concept of queueing, having problems
with everyday social interaction, have a limited capacity to follow
instructions or to understand the emotional feelings of others or may
become agitated or distressed having to wait for extended periods of
time. We are also able to offer this concession to guests who are
wheelchair dependent. Queue assist does not apply to catering or retail
This Queue Assist policy gives disabled people the ability to go to the exit point of a ride and not have to wait in line. For us, this is a lifeline, and enables us to enjoy a family day out together when it may otherwise go pear-shaped very quickly.
You see, I don't know if I've mentioned it, and I don't want to harp on about it or make it sound like I'm complaining, because I most definitely am not. Sasha does have a disability - it's just that it's a hidden disability. She struggles to understand the social rules that all of us other 'muggles' somehow pick up and learn in childhood without much teaching going on. Of course I've explained to her about queues, and she can see that everyone else stands in them, but generally there are other outside influences which make queueing very difficult for her. It can create huge anxiety, and yet she's not really aware of why she becomes anxious; nor can she put into words and explain to us what is happening. Too many people, too much noise, but generally just the waiting around.... and yet I will admit that on some days she can cope with all of these things, somehow block them out. She just can't manage that every time.
Sasha doesn't understand several social concepts, such as a teacher or her elders being in charge - Sasha lives in Sasha's world, where she needs to have control of what happens and when. It's not selfishness, although it can seem like it; it's really just anxiety and lack of understanding and awareness on her part.
This impacts us in other ways as a family. We do often ask Tamsin to let Sasha have that control, and make decisions on where we go and what we do when, in order to avoid the meltdowns and the inevitability of a spoilt day for everyone. We try to be fair to Tamsin, and in order to do this and give her some freedom we will often split into two halves as a family so that both girls can have their fun. Tamsin would actually stay with us and wait while Sasha went on rides of her choosing, but conversely Sasha would not generally be happy to wait around and watch Tamsin having fun. Patience is a very hard thing to teach to someone who cannot understand the reward it may bring.
For us, the reality of not having the Queue Assist pass would mean a much shorter day out, with us having to leave after Sasha had a meltdown about trying to wait in a queue. So I thank Paultons Park for having this policy and enabling us to have a fab family day out.
However, I do feel bad about it. Particularly at Paultons, where Sasha's key interest is Peppa Pig - all those rides are of course aimed at toddlers. Toddlers who also generally are not know for their patience, and who are likely to kick up a fuss at the waiting, and being bored. There are those parents who get annoyed by what they see as 'queue jumping' rather than 'queue assisting', and there are those who will show that displeasure with 'looks' or even with words. A lot of this issue is down to awareness - I'm guessing a lot of 'normal' parents have not heard about this fab policy, so have no idea why I suddenly appear with my gorgeous smiley daughter who looks 'normal' and get to go on before them. I can sympathise with that - I also would have had no clue about this policy before I needed to, and may have been equally confused (although I never would have confronted anyone about it!). Sadly there are those, who even once informed about this policy, would still be 'sniffy' and disgruntled about it.
The thing is, those toddlers in the queues, whilst they may complain, and whinge and cry about having to wait, WILL still wait 9 times out of 10. That there is the difference. They are learning an important social lesson while they wait. We've tried that with Sasha, but it just doesn't work. That's because she has autism, not because we are rubbish parents. I would be SO happy if I could just go and wait in line, with both Tamsin and Sasha, and have a 'normal' day out.
When we first entered Peppa Pig World, Sasha was completely overwhelmed by the people, the queues, the noise and the choice. We nearly didn't go on any rides - she ran between them, saying yes but then no several times, whilst Tamsin just wanted a go on anything. We queued for George's Dinosaur ride, but as we read the rules and realised Sasha would have to ride along, rather than with me as she has done previously, Sasha crumbled and wanted to leave the line. Thankfully, later in the day we were able to come back to it and Sasha did brave it alone and enjoy, as you can see:
Although it can be difficult, we don't just take advantage and give up trying to teach Sasha about queueing. For the first ride we went on, the queue was probably around 5-10 minutes long. So I waited in line with Sasha and Tamsin, and she was distracted by putting on sun cream and by trying to take in all of the other rides nearby. Ironically, as we waited, the ride operator spotted Sasha's armband (she was quite calm and happy!) and came over to tell us we could skip to the front if we wanted! Only slightly embarrassing, but it was very attentive and sweet of him to notice and to care. I explained quietly that we were trying to teach her waiting, and he left us to it - thankfully Sasha wasn't aware of the conversation! I can see how confusing that is also though - if she can wait some of the time, why not all of the time, right? Well, we just have to pick our moments. Unless you can come and spend 48 hours with her to understand, you just have to take my word for it.
An example. The next day, we took Sasha somewhere of her choosing, that she had been to before, and was happy to go to - Dinosaur Crazy Golf.
It cost us £25 as a family to get in, and we had a lovely time, right up until hole 6 of 18. At that point, for some explicable reason, Sasha dropped to her knees on the tee off point, and refused to join in any more. We don't know why - could have been the sound effects, could have been the queues in front and the waiting around, it could have been the weather. All I know is that I had to carry her round the rest of the golf course while Daddy and Tamsin battled on valiantly. It was tempting to go and ask for a refund, but I don't think they'd have understood that. I don't really understand it! But I do know, that you can't make her do anything she doesn't want to do. I can also tell you, we don't 'queue jump' lightly, with the aim of getting something out of the system. We do it because we need to, for all our sakes.