Friday 22 September 2017

The magic of Disney

A couple of years back, we flew to Disneyland in Orlando for an amazing holiday, and a photo from that time recently appeared as a memory in my timeline. 
It was the most magical holiday, and one which we'd all like to repeat, but at the same time it was difficult. With a capital D. I've always thought I would blog about it but never quite been able to face it, as I have such mixed emotions about it.

Disney is supposed to be a magical place, every child's dream... and it is, for most children. I mean, how can you go to Disney and not love it?Well on our first day in Florida we spent roughly an hour in the Magic Kingdom, the most magical place in the world, before Sasha could take it no longer. It was a painful hour for all of us as we tried to make her happy, trying to convince her that it was fun. The queue to enter and get your bag searched by security was the initial anxiety hurdle and nothing improved from there. Too loud, too busy, too hot, too much walking and long queues. We had specifically picked a time of year to go which did not fall in any holiday periods (UK or US) in order to ensure quieter parks overall. We felt they were indeed quieter than they may otherwise have been, but they were still too busy for Sasha.

Part of the problem was the new accessibility rules which Disney had introduced not long before we went. I totally understand the reason for them doing this, sad as it is. There has apparently been a growing problem with cheats; people who are not disabled in any way but who don't want to bother to stand in a queue. As word got round more that those with disabilities could by-pass the queues, large numbers of people were pretending that they had difficulties in order to 'jump' the queue.

This is a hot topic, and one I blogged about briefly several years ago after a trip to Paulton's Park and Peppa Pig World. For those who have to endure the boredom of queues, but obviously don't really want to, it's hard to get across the reason why others may find them actually painful, or just impossible.

Disney tried to create what they felt was a fairer playing field. Their new policy is that if you have a disability, you can go to the front of the ride (usually via an exit point) and receive a timed ticket which will let you return in 40, 60, 100 minutes - whatever the time of the queue length at that point would be. For many, this is a good accommodation as it means they can go off and sit quietly nearby, or go on a quieter ride in the meantime perhaps, and are then let back in via the exit when their time is up. In this way, the crowded, busy, noisy queues which are difficult for many with sensory issues can be avoided, or for those who have a lot of pain standing around, they can relieve that pressure.

I think most would agree that the new system works OK for a fair amount of people with disabilities. It's true that it's not as easy as it used to be to 'skip' lines, but as I've explained, there's a reason for that. As Sasha gets older and learns more coping strategies, this system may even work fine for her.

When we were there that time though, those new accessibility rules sadly made the rides inaccessible for Sasha. Her Pathological Demand Avoidance (type of autism) meant her anxiety levels were so high that by the time we'd asked for the first return ticket (on It's A Small World, a ride I think she would have loved), she wasn't wanting to do any rides at all. In fact it wasn't a case of simply not wanting, it was not being able to deal with the attention, and the wait, and the not knowing what the ride would entail, and the stress of a time to fill some other way.

Sasha trudged around reluctantly, becoming more agitated and stating often that she needed to leave. I marched everyone around, trying desperately try to find something which might make Sasha happy. The final straw came after I led us all to a far side of the park especially to find a splash zone play place which I was confident she would love - as our luck would have it, it was closed for the day to be repainted! So after an hour of trying to coax Sasha to try anything, and everyone else following me round almost on tiptoes, I gave in. I remember sobbing on my mum's shoulders; it's one of the few times I've properly cried about anything to do with Sasha.

My parents and I left the park with Sasha, leaving my husband and older daughter behind; understandably though, their mood was also pretty low at this point. After settling Sasha back at our villa, I returned alone to the park later that afternoon to meet up with dad and big sis, and we made the most of our shorter time there. 
That's how most of the following days went; a split holiday. We'd attempt a park as a group with Sasha in the mornings, but she never lasted long. Soon after arriving she would want to 'escape' to a cafe with her ipad and headphone. Then someone would go back 'home' (to the villa) with Sasha, while others went and rode every ride there was in a short space of time. It was the only way it could work. Sasha did love the waterparks, but was reluctant to do any of the rides in them, preferring to just hang out in the wave pools or occasionally the lazy river.

Just before we visited, Disney had also made some other changes to bring down waiting times. They introduced their FastPass+ system, which we thought worked brilliantly for most families. In a nutshell, this lets people book rides in advance, for specific times, and this cuts down queue lengths for all visitors, disability or not. If you want to find out more about that, there's a great explanation over on

I'm so thankful that my parents were on holiday with us. It's not overreacting to say that the holiday would have been a complete disaster otherwise. I will say that Disney tried their hardest; on the first day I returned alone to the main desk to explain how it hadn't worked for us as a family. I could barely speak to them through my tears though as it was such a disappointment to me. That wasn't their fault though, it's just how Sasha is. Disney did their best to make it better.

I just kept thinking (and still do) how unfair it was that Sasha wasn't able to enjoy something that millions of other children do. We did go on to have an amazing holiday out there though, and I totally appreciate how lucky we were to go in the first place when many others never get that opportunity. The Disney and Universal Studios parks were too much for Sasha, but Tamsin absolutely loved all of them. She went on every ride there, no matter how high and fast!

The funny thing is that actually both girls would like to return to Florida - Sasha just for the villa with pool and waterparks though. Tamsin has a new found love for Harry Potter and so is desperate to explore all those rides in more detail. Not sure we'd get Sasha on the plane again to be honest, but that's a whole other anxiety story...

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page. If you are looking or more information on Pathological Demand Avoidance, why not try some of these, my most popular posts?

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

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  1. Steph! I’m a few years late here. We were at Disney about the same time with our PDA kids. We are (why?!?!?) going back there in 2 months. Did Disney employees offer you any real helpful accommodations? We had the DAS and that was ok. But the WAIT to get the DAS was almost an hour, while the NT people had run to their first rides and gone on them already. My kid was already spent from that.
    He’s older now and I’m hoping that helps but his meltdowns can be bigger and more dangerous if handled wrong. Any tips from anyone are appreciated. Wish disney would allow special needs parents to get that stupid DAS pass before they get to the park on the first day!!!

    This time for the first time in my life I’m staying at a house with kitchen off property and hope the freedom to come and go will be better than when we’ve been bound by Disney transport in the past. Thabks for the post. Glad to know our sort of fun sort of miserable trip wasn’t our anolmoly.

    1. Hey! Wishing you loads of luck! If you drop me an email at or message me via my facebook page I'll tell you all I know!!


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