Autistic at Disney World

As a Floridian, I’ve had the great fortune of several magical trips to Disney World over the years. Disney World is awesome. It’s intense, but awesome. I’ve never had any real trouble with going to Disney because, while strange, loud, and crowded, it was also familiar in a way, and familiarity is comfort. I knew all the songs from the movies, and recognized characters and sights. I knew that I’d have fun on the Dumbo ride, I knew that the castle was awesome, and I knew that women in giant princess ballgowns were sweet and kind. I remember I was obsessed with Kida from the (highly underrated) Atlantis movie and spent my entire vacation hunting down a pin depicting her and begging my mom to help find her – which she did. I still have it, it’s one of my favorites.

kida pin

There’s a few good ideas to keep in mind when considering a Disney vacation when on the spectrum. My best suggestion is to go during off-season if it’s possible, when there’s the least amount of people. I was recently at Epcot during their food and wine festival the day before Veteran’s Day, and the most overwhelming part about being there was the sheer amount of people flooding the streets. It’s very hard to find a quiet corner to decompress in a situation like that. Bathroom stalls sorta work, but if you’re female there’s definitely going to be a crowd/long line most of the time. To decompress, I suggest finding out which rides are relaxing in whatever park you’re going to. If you’re sensitive to noises and need some quiet, I’d suggest just flat out bringing noise-cancelling headphones. They play music everywhere.

Remember to eat to keep up your energy. I forget this sometimes. When I was at Epcot, all three of the people I was with around dinner said I looked like I was fading and completely out of it when it was late and we still hadn’t eaten. After dinner, I was much better, even though I hadn’t realized how low I’d gotten because I was so focused on my feet hurting (bring comfortable walking shoes!).

And speaking of food, for those out there with refined palates, aka, ‘picky eaters’ like me who are sensitive to certain tastes or textures and are cautious about eating at new places, look up menus online in advance if you’re planning to eat at a restaurant to make sure there’s something you want to eat there. It’s a small way to ease up some of the stress you might otherwise feel. Or, consider bringing your own food in a backpack. It saves money, and you ensure you have something you’re willing to eat. If you are eating at a nicer restaurant, especially for dinner, rather than one of the more ‘fast food’ type places, I highly suggest getting reservations online in advance. We were wandering around looking for a place to have dinner around 6:00 PM, and one place we talked to told us to come back at 8:45 PM to see how bad the wait would be then, with no guarantee that we’d be seated.

Avatar Land food
Food from Animal Kingdom’s new Pandora section

The most important suggestion I have is to make sure that you have at least one person with you who makes you feel safe. I’ve almost always gone only with family in the past, and family is safe and comforting. In retrospect, I think that’s why I’ve never had any real problems with carnivals or theme parks in the past. In my adult years, when I’ve gone without as much support, I feel more vulnerable and find myself becoming overwhelmed easier. But when I go with someone I feel is a strong support – like family, close friends, or my fiancé – I’m able to handle things without any problem that on my own I’d probably find too much. There was one time I was in Magic Kingdom on a special school trip first to the Kennedy Space Center, then Magic Kingdom, and I got separated from my group. It was harrowing, and suddenly the plastic magic didn’t seem so familiar. Don’t go without someone who you trust and are comfortable with by your side (or an emotional support animal if you use one), because their support makes all the difference between a wonderful, incident free fun time and feeling panicked.

Norway
My fiancé and I with the troll in Norway’s gift shop in Epcot

One more small suggestion. If you can, don’t plan your trip so that immediately after you return home, you have to jump back into work or school. A day to relax after your vacation can be an invaluable way to decompress and enjoy some quiet time.

On an unrelated note, Epcot is my favorite of the four main Disney parks. I love the collection of unique architecture and culture, the foods, the sounds. I like the idea of being able to learn and experience these things. I had the pleasure of introducing my fiancé to it for the first time, and was thrilled to see him find that same enjoyment in it.

Though I have to say, I’ll never truly forgive Disney for turning Maelstrom into a light-hearted Frozen ride. [sigh] At least I have my memories.

 

Do you enjoy theme parks, or are they too much? What sort of coping methods do you use?

Which theme park is your favorite?

Like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support! You can also find me on facebook as Some Girl with a Braid, or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

 

While I’ve never used disability services at Disney before, here is a link for those who might want more information as to what Disney does to assist autistics: https://www.orlandovacation.com/disney-world/special-needs-guide/guests-with-autism/

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Autistic Moments – What’s Wrong?

Apparently I forget about my face. It’s there, I know, and I’m supposed to put more effort into it, but I don’t. I don’t get why I should, really. Smiling all the time hurts my face, and why should I put effort into my expression especially when I’m not in the middle of socializing? Sometimes I’m hyper focused on something, and that focus means that I don’t have the diverted brain energy going into making my face palatable to others. Sometimes it’s just nice to be alone and stare into space while playing fantasies about mythical battles, dramatic romances, and epic dragons. When my brain’s so busy with such wonderful things, why would I bother trying to make my face look like I want to be approached?

Part of my lack of effort in my face is because I get annoyed when pictures are taken and my face isn’t perceived the way I perceive it. What’s the point in putting effort into smiling if the smile I like isn’t the smile other people like? I’ve been told that pictures I think look really nice (usually with a close-lipped smile) make me look like I want to murder people with some sort of death glare. That I don’t look properly happy without a big, toothy grin that feels weird to pose with on my face. I just don’t see it. I don’t think I look as good, I feel like I see more of me the way I see myself when I don’t smile at all, or when I have a slight smile. I think there’s something delicate about my lips in that way, and big, toothy smiles make me think of comedy, clowns, and jokes – all bulky things in my mind that are heavy and take up energy, even if they take up energy in a good way. Those things don’t mean ‘happy’ to me, not really. They’re amusing, of course, and I can feel happy while experiencing them, but that doesn’t capture ‘happy’ for me. Happy to me is more about being content and comfortable, with pizza, soft clothes, and a good book/movie/videogame. I don’t need smiles to enjoy those things. The way I feel in my head doesn’t match up to what other people feel my face expresses, and it can be exhausting practicing and making sure I remember not to let the mask slip.

I think some of the reason I get comments is because of gender. There’s a thing about getting girls to smile all the time that I don’t quite comprehend. If someone sees I’m not smiling, wouldn’t they understand there could be a reason I’m not smiling? Or maybe no reason to smile? Smiling takes energy and I wish people would stop demanding I spend energy for no good reason.

Just as common though are well meaning people who think I’m always sad or angry or that something must be wrong for me to be sitting by myself and staring off into space without any particular expression on my face. They just want to help, and I get that. I even appreciate the concern.

But sometimes sitting there alone and expressionless helps me recharge my social batteries before plunging into the fray once more. A few daydreams, a little bit of watching the grass grow, playing bejeweled on my phone, or bouncing my leg up and down, and I can be good to go.

So, nothing’s wrong, thank you for asking. I get that you mean well, but I really am fine and you don’t have to look so skeptical when I tell you I’m fine. If I’m not fine, chances are that I just need some time to recharge. If you are a close friend who knows that I enjoy spending time with them without feeling drained afterwards, that’s cool and I’m probably okay with hanging out while I recharge. If I’m not, don’t be offended. But if you’re just a well-meaning passerby, please continue to pass by. Don’t tell me to come on out of my shell because socializing and smiling will make me feel better. It won’t. And even when I do recharge, don’t be too worried about whether there’s a smile on my face. If it happens, it happens. But I don’t think it’s worth draining my batteries to force it.

Autistic Moments - What's wrong.png

Image text:

Well-Meaning Person: Hey, what’s wrong?

Some Girl with a Braid: Nothing. Why?

Well-Meaning Person: You look upset.

Some Girl with a Braid: Huh. Weird.

 

What type of techniques do you use to recharge? I have a few go-to stims (fidgeting, rubbing my eyes, bouncing my leg up and down), and I like soft quite places, like my bed with a heavy comforter (or two) and possibly a million pillows. I’m curious how others cope.

Like, share, comment, or follow me here, on Facebook (Some Girl with a Braid), or Twitter (@AmalenaCaldwell) for future updates if you enjoy my posts!

Empathy and Dealing with Disaster

TW: disaster, death, hatred, Nazis

I wasn’t planning this post… but it all came to me about ten minutes ago, and I felt like it was worth sharing.

While it’s often said by bad professionals and those who don’t know any better that Autistics don’t feel empathy, this is actually not true at all. It’s not that we don’t have empathy, it’s that we don’t always recognize situations that require it. In truth, we often have too much empathy. And it kind of hurts.

When I watch the news and read about yet more hatred and more death, it destroys me inside. I can’t comprehend how someone can hate another person just for existing. I can’t see why they don’t see other people as people the way I do. People who just want to live, laugh, and love just like everyone else, regardless or orientation, race, gender, etc. I can’t comprehend what possesses someone to, for instance, ram their car into a crowd and kill an innocent woman while injuring many others. Can’t they comprehend how painful that would be? Can’t they see that they wouldn’t want that done to them? Can’t they understand that hurting people is wrong?

I’ve always struggled to comprehend evil. In fantasy (my favorite genre/special interest), it’s more often than not very easy: some dark force corrupted an otherwise good person, someone thinks they’re doing what’s good without understanding they’re actually hurting people, or there’s simply an impartial force of nature with no emotions destroying things like a volcano or zombies. I can understand those things. I can’t understand Nazis and Confederacy lovers. There isn’t a magical dark power, they know they’re hurting people (in fact, that’s their goal), and they are not a mindless force of nature.

What does this have to do with autism? Well, as overly empathetic people, we can see something like what happened in Charlottesville on the news and feel completely devastated and overwhelmed by it. The volume of bile and hatred expressed by many can become unbearable, and all I can think of are the victims, and how much it must hurt physically and emotionally to be them. How much it hurts me (so many others) to know that there are so many people out there who want me dead because I’m not the right religion, orientation, culture, or whatever other poor excuse they have to hate. How much I wish I could wave a magic wand and banish evil from the world. How helpless and weak I feel with nothing but my keyboard, and how I can’t comprehend how so many people can be so terrible.

Like with most things I can’t understand, I can become obsessive. I read lots of news, feel as if it’s my duty to keep up to date and stand against racism, sexism, and all the other –isms whenever I see them. I’ve cut people out of my life for claiming disgusting things about races and religions, even tried my hand at protesting before (it’s exhausting and draining). And then I end up having anxiety and crying when it gets to be too much. Honestly, if I didn’t go on facebook so often, I probably wouldn’t have as much ‘random’ anxiety. While I think it’s important to call out hatred and bigotry in all forms when you see it and to be aware of the world around you, I’d like to say this to other autistics who might be feeling just as overwhelmed as me: we can’t help anyone if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. There is no benefit to constantly bombarding yourself with images, words, and videos of horrible things you already know exist. If you can’t handle it, it’s okay to turn off the computer and the tv and do something for yourself. You have permission to look after yourself and turn off all the extra input. Focus on your special interests (assuming it’s not politics, in which case ignore me) and use them to self-heal by doing something you enjoy. We can’t ignore the world forever, since we are a part of the world, but breaks are completely acceptable. Maybe I’m saying this for myself more than anyone who’ll read this, but if you can’t handle something and it’s causing you so much stress that it’s painful, you can’t sleep at night, and hyperventilate when faced with the ugliness that exists in humanity, then take a few deep breaths, stim in a way that helps, and let yourself relax for a little while.