I’m stepping outside of my typical green business posts today for another autism-related article. This time, the topic is Disneyland and autism. On Dec. 26, 2012 my husband and I surprised our kids at 5 a.m., when we loaded them into the car for a surprise trip to an undisclosed location.  

Once we exited the western edge of Phoenix, my son figured out that Disneyland was the destination. Both of the kids were excited, but my husband and I were just a bit nervous; this was going to be our first trip without using a Disney Guest Assistance Card.

The Disney Guest Assistance Card (GAC) can be used for a variety of reasons, but it is particularly helpful for families who have children on the autism spectrum. In the past, the GAC allowed us to use the stroller as if it were a wheelchair. In other words, the kids wouldn’t have to get out of the stroller until it was time to board a ride. Sometimes this meant that we used the wheelchair entrance to a ride and other times it meant that we took the stroller with us through the main line.

Alex & Ava at Disneyland in 2008Having continual access to the stroller wasn’t just helpful if the kids were tired of standing, it allowed them to have a safe place to "escape" from the crowds. We found that a stroller combined with noise-cancelling headphones was the perfect combination and the kids were able to enjoy Disneyland like their typically developing peers.

While the kids enjoyed it, pushing around a big double stroller in crowded Disneyland was anything but joyous for my husband and I. Sure, we loved that the kids were comfortable, but fighting crowds in a stroller was stressful at best.  

This trip we decided to do something different: no Guest Assistance Card and no headphones. The lack of headphones wasn’t a conscious decision, it was merely an oversight on my end while I was packing. We discussed the plan with the kids and they were ready for the challenge.

As we neared the entrance to Disney’s California Adventure, the kids were all smiles. We made a beeline straight for California Screamin’, a roller coaster that has a loop in it. My daughter had been on it before, but my more reserved son hadn’t yet ridden it. He said he was going to face his fears and ride it, but only if he could sit with his sister.

What’s a roller coaster-loving mom to do? I wanted to ride on it with him, but if he’s only comfortable going with his little sister then I really had no choice but to say yes. He’s 11 and she is 9 — they are old enough to ride California Screamin’ by themselves, so my husband and I loaded into the cart behind them and off we went. 

When we exited the ride my son was on a rush — he loved it! I knew right then that this would be a good trip. Alex has always wanted to ride the coaster but his fears and anxiety about the ride prevented him from doing so. He was so proud of himself for confronting this fear and was relieved to know that he had as much fun on it as he thought he would.

I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of the trip, but it was filled with many more happy moments. There were a few times when the kids were overwhelmed by the crowds and noise while waiting in line, but those moments passed without incident.  

While I love the Guest Assistance Card and what it provides to families who have children with autism, I was very excited that my family was able to enjoy Disneyland without the card. This may seem like a small step to some, but it was really a huge leap for our family.

Related post on MNN: 6 years ago was austism D-Day for my family

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