May 23, 2004

do not pass

We went to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago with a group of high functioning autistic boys, all buddies from school. They were super well behaved and had a great time together.

When we got there, we did the same thing I did last year, the same thing most parents of special needs children do when they get to the park: we went into the office at ďCity HallĒ where they hand out special assistance passes which allow you to skip the long line and go straight to the Fast Pass lane. But this time it didnít work.

You see, the Disneyland management has decided to do away with special assistance passes. As of March, if you have an autistic son or a daughter with Downs, thatís too bad for you. You still have to wait on those lines that snake around and loop back on themselves, sometimes as much as an hour to take a three minute ride. No allowances made anymore, not for anyone. If your child canít wait like that, if his cystic fibrosis makes it so he canít remain standing that long or his autism makes it so he has no understanding of the concept of delayed gratification and has a meltdown right there on line, well, thatís just too bad, isnít it? You shouldnít come to the park. You donít belong there and you shouldnít try.

I sort of understand it. Sort of. I know many people took advantage of the pass, exaggerating their condition, making up problems, using the loophole. You could say we did. I mean, Damian is capable of standing on line, probably as much as any other child his age. Though it can take a toll on him that it wouldnít on a typically developing child: he might space out and not come back for hours. He might become remote and withdrawn or become so fidgety and sensory-seeking he canít concentrate anymore. And all for a ride thatís supposed to be fun. But mostly, yeah, he probably can wait on at least a few lines.

My internal justification last year for the pass was twofold: weíve paid the price over and over for having a special needs child. Weíve had to work harder, run faster, worry more, and spend more money too. So now we finally get a perk? Hell yeah, letís take it! We Ė and he Ė have earned it. Also? The rides, especially the roller coasters, are amazing occupational therapy. Last year at Legoland, after going on his very first roller coaster ride ever, Damian went to a playground that would have been impossibly challenging (rope ladders and shaky bridges and such) and jumped right in. His body was more regulated than Iíd ever seen it. All because of a roller coaster. That makes the special passes logical, even for a mildly affected child like him.

Imagine a more severely affected child who canít enjoy the park at all without bypassing the long lines and who could reap enormous benefits from the rides. For that child, the pass is not a plus, itís a necessity.

Canceling the special assistance pass is yet another example of discrimination against those who need help the most but are, it seems, least likely to get it. A friend said she wouldnít be back. Iíll have to think twice.

Posted by Tamar at May 23, 2004 10:06 PM

Is Disney the only park around? Might there be a smaller local park in the area with a good coaster or two? Six Flags parks tend to have great coasters and good water parks and lines that are miniscule compared to bigger parks... just a thought if you're looking for an alternative. I agree, though -- that policy change sucks.

Posted by: cait at May 24, 2004 05:09 PM

There are indeed other amusement parks around here. Southern California is loaded to the gills with them! Legoland was a hit last year and we're planning to go back this summer. Magic Mountain (a Six Flags park) sounds too advanced for Damian right now. Apparently Knott's Berry Farm has some good kid stuff, but not that much. I'm not sure about Raging Waters. Remains to be seen. All that water. Also not sure about Universal Studios, but that might be doable too. We'll explore...

Posted by: Tamar at May 24, 2004 09:55 PM