Last weekend, we took Arizona to Disneyland for the first time. We figured that now, at age 10, she would be able to handle the sensory stimuli from the park. We purchased tickets online and started prepping for the visit.
Whenever doing something new, it’s important to plan ahead as much as possible. Initially, Arizona seemed into it. She has always loved rides at other parks : the pier, Sea World and the county fair. And, she is still interested in Disney Princesses, although less so in other characters like Mickey mouse.
Either way, we picked a date, marked the calendar and talked about our plan.
But Arizona is a girl who has anxiety about the unknown. Making a plan for something new only helps her so much. Going to Disneyland was no exception. A few days before our visit, she started getting stuck.
“Mommy, I think we should wait and go another time,” she said. She found the tickets I had printed out and threw them in the trash. I let her process what she needed to; knowing that she would have to come to her own decision about Disneyland without anyone else forcing their opinions and ideas upon her. And so, at the end of that particular day of anxiety about Disneyland, she ended up taking the tickets out of the trash and decided it would be okay to go after all. I just nodded and said, “I am looking forward to it.”
But when the morning of our visit came, Arizona got stuck again. She hid my car keys, tried to close the garage door on me while I was loading the trunk and was loudly proclaiming her “change in plans about our trip.”
We had a plan to pick up her Dad, go out to breakfast together and then head to Anaheim. She wouldn’t budge. So I got Dad on the phone and we talked about doing one step at a time, the first one being getting in the car and driving to pick him up. She agreed to that.
Over breakfast, we talked about the different things Dad and I liked about Disneyland from our previous visits. We pulled up the Disney app on my iphone and looked at some of the rides. And then, Arizona started getting interested in our trip. “Okay, let’s just go and maybe do one ride.” “Sounds like a plan,” we said.
I had called my friend, Kerrie, to get hints and tips for making it through the park with our special kids. She talked me through the process. Our first stop once we got into the park was to go to Town Hall. We let them know we had a child with autism and sensory processing issues and they scanned our tickets for disability access. We would still have to wait to get on rides, but we wouldn’t have to wait in the line. We could do other things like eat lunch or watch a parade until it was our time to go to the ride. When it was, we would go to the exit or disability entrance and walk right on. It was a brilliant way for us to experience the park with our child’s needs.
After we finished a ride, we would find a designated kiosk throughout the park (there are 5 at Disneyland and 4 at California Adventure) and get a “return time” for our next ride.
Arizona had a great time. We went on 4 rides : Pirates of the Caribbean, Small World, Haunted Mansion and The Jungle Cruise. She picked out a toy from one of the shops on the way out. She saw some of the parade down Main Street.
Thank you, Disneyland, for a smooth and successful first visit for our daughter. They accommodated our access to rides, made a special meal for her (shot out to Chef Daniel at the Riverbelle Terrace) and had very helpful nurses (with easy access to medication) at the First Aid station when she ended up breaking into hives (NOT due to the special meal from Chef Daniel).
I’m not sure when we’ll go again, but our first visit is down. Arizona did say she wanted to try the Matterhorn next time. We shall see!