My Disney Vacation by Pam McKillop

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Gratitude is something we can find in our interactions with people we meet, friends we have, and experiences we make. I have had the opportunity to take my daughter on an autism friendly trip to Disney World and experienced gratitude to its fullest.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of a trial run for group family autism-friendly vacations. I learned this was the first time, EVER, a group of families and their children with autism took an organized trip together. It was a joy to be with people I knew would be welcoming and understanding. For years I’ve heard my friends share stories from their own vacations with their kids. I never dreamed a trip to Disney would be possible for me and Kate.

Kate and I traveled together with other families for four days, two days in Disney and two days of travel. Kate and I took walks around the lake, swam in the pool, watched an outdoor movie, and went on rides at Disney including the Dumbo Ride and It’s a Small World. Kate’s favorite was the Wild 100 Acre Woods ride that brought us through the Winnie the Pooh story.

I am forever grateful to all of the organizations who came together to make this trip possible. Thank you to the Charles River Family Support Center, who dreamed up the idea for the trip. Alan, a travel agent from ASD Vacations and parent of a son with autism, who made sure we were well informed and arranged for extra supports throughout our trip and Mike, from Autism on the Seas, who made sure we had access to respite staff.

I am grateful to members of my own family, my parents and Kate’s dad, who contributed generously to make our trip possible. Then there were all of the little things on the trip. The woman who helped in line when I struggled to work my own Magic Band bracelet to access rides, let alone help Kate work her hers. The man who gave up his spot during the electric parade after he turned around and saw Kate trying to peek in between people. He even pushed me up in back of her, moving himself even further from view of the parade. The woman who told me what a good job Kate was doing and gave her a high five during the Magic Castle light show and fireworks, while we were wedged in with hundreds of people. I know, what was I thinking…but she loved it!

Finally, I am grateful to all of the families who, like me, took a leap of faith to take this trip with their sons and daughters with autism. Much of the trip was spent absorbed with our own kids and needs, but we were there to smile at each other and to offer words of encouragement. I always had the feeling that there was someone nearby if I needed them. I know this reassurance helped me relax and enjoy the experience.

It’s exciting and encouraging to know our world is changing and is now more accepting to families like mine and yours so that we can have experiences like “typical’ families. There needs to be more places where we as families can be free to be who we are without having to apologize.

Update: This trip took place in October 2014. Kate and I were fortunate to be able to take another trip in June 2016. A lot had progressed since our first trip, with lots more support and interaction from the respite staff at Autism on the Seas. It was another wonderful time and once again surpassed my expectations.