The Kindness of Strangers

Guess who’s not dead!

(Hint: me)

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(Macy crushing me on the Astro Orbiter)

We came home from our 12 day road trip to family in town and massive amounts of laundry and hosting a Father’s Day get together, so it’s taken me a bit to get with the program again.

I have a confession:  Disneyland is not my favorite.

I’m practically a communist, right?

You see…I’ve only been 3 times.

Once was in 1984 when I tried to climb off Space Mountain when it was moving.

Once was in 2008 when Campbell did this the whole week:

And the third time was now.  We did a slow paced first day where we didn’t even head to Disney until after lunch and things went well.  (Other than a ticket window attendant on a power trip who was ready to have me arrested when I incorrectly stated that I was picking up tickets for 2 adults and 4 kids instead of 3 and 3, that is.  Apparently 10 = an adult at Disney.  Who knew?)

I was hopeful.

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We got up the next morning and the kids got appropriately dorked out.

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Some kids used the force.



And then we went to FastPass Star Tours (which made me break out in a “HOLY CRAP I’M GOING TO BE THE MIDDLE AGED LADY WHO BARFS” cold sweat, btw) and discovered that one of our tickets hadn’t been scanned at the gate that day.  The sweet employee fixed the FastPass situation for us and told us to go to City Hall.

Strike 1 for Asperger’s/SPD.

When we got to City Hall, there was a long line.

Strike 2 for Asperger’s/SPD.

The lady at City Hall was super NOT nice and accused me of making up what was going on.

Strike 1 for Mom.

We then had to go back to the gates.

Strike 3 for Asperger’s/SPD.

This lead to strikes 2-40 for mom.

Mom-ing a kid with special needs is a balancing act.  When do you cater to the Asperger’s vs. when do you make him do hard things?  When do you push harder vs. when have you already pushed too hard?

The rest of the day went similarly.

We sat down for fireworks and BC took Bennett to the bathroom.  Campbell lost it…LOST IT.  There were too many people.  There was too much noise.  It had been a long day and he was done.  He was rolling around on the ground and freaking out in a way that only other Autism parents have experienced/understand.  And that is when a Disney employee came by and informed me that his head could not be on the ground.

I tried to get him off the ground and started to cry.  I hate to cry.  I don’t feel sorry for myself when it comes to being an Autism mom.  I’m a religious person and I’m going to tell you that I KNOW that I agreed to be this kid’s mom before this life.  I’ve been prepared for it.  I’m capable of it and sometimes I’m even good at it.  Disneyland is not important in the grand scheme of things.  I know that.  It’s not worth crying over.  I know that.  BUT, sometimes you just want to be able to do “normal” family things.  Sometimes, when your kid has to write a paper for school about a time that her family had fun together, you want her to be able to think of something that didn’t involve her brother freaking out.

The sweet employee (whose name I did not get and I’m kicking myself about it because Mickey Mouse himself would be getting a letter about her) noticed and asked what was wrong.  Through the tears I spit out “He has Autism and we’re doing the best we can.”  She told us to wait there and disappeared.  She came back with a guy named Brian who was busy on his walkie talkie and asked how many were in our party.  I explained that there were 6 of us and that my husband was in the bathroom with another kid.

And then she told me that she, too, was the mom of a 6 year old with Autism.  But guess what?  Her husband couldn’t take it and he left.  And she “got it”.  She understood.  And we both sat there and cried in the middle of Disneyland.  And then she hugged me, and I didn’t even hate it.  Winking smile

Brian used his magical walkie talkie to get us reserved seats for the fireworks on benches right up at the train station, away from the crowds and the chaos.

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And Campbell still freaked out.

And I still kept crying.

But, I was reminded that there are still good people in this world and my heart was full.

Maybe that’s the magic of Disney?

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  1. That’s awesome. Of course I’m crying. And I can’t even blame pregnancy hormones.

    You rock, Char.

  2. Dolores McCune says:

    Tears from me too. Grateful someone had some compassion that day.

  3. Joanne Hill says:

    with a little time and maybe alot of effort, you probably could find out who that nice lady was; if you remember the day and the time and the area they probably could pin point.. and since it was just recent someone there may know who that lady is. They know who was working what areas at any time. They practically have it it down to a science.
    I’m sorry your trip at Disney didn’t go that well.

  4. That is such a wonderful story, I love these testaments of Tender Mercies.

  5. Emily (Minson) Jensen says:

    Oh Char,
    Not only do I “get it”, I want to offer you some hope: I promise it gets easier! I don’t know if their normal becomes our normal or if dealing with all the issues just becomes second nature or if their normal actually gets closer to other’s idea of normal BUT, it does get easier! Mine is 14, the tears come much less frequently than they used to and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer. Hang in there. (We didn’t brave Disneyland until she was 10 and we still came out with stories that are super funny to everyone but me.)

    • Well said! I have a boy with HFA who is now 14 as well! I second that, we’ve been through some tough sad times when he was little, but it does get better. We’ve all gained coping skills, that is, us his family, and he himself. He’s learned ways to comfort himself and also speak up as to what he knows his needs are. We had a very successful trip to Disney last year. We spent a little extra time at the pool each day to balance out the crowds, and luckily all the kids needed a break from the action as well. Hang in there, Char!

  6. Thank you for reminding me that there are still great people in this world and that when the hard days come we aren’t alone. May you find peace in your days and know that you are a GREAT mom!

  7. darcymae says:

    ooh! i’m glad someone was there to hug you when you needed it!

  8. Just wanted to comment and tell you that you’re doing a great job!!! I’ve followed your blog for a while just for it’s cool stuff, I didn’t realize you had an Autistic kiddo. My youngest (of 3) is Autistic and is almost 5 years old. I so badly just want to be a “normal” family who can take my kids to go see a movie, go to the park without worrying that my daughter will be messing with other people’s stuff and in their faces, enjoy a little vacation without it being a complete waste of time because of meltdowns!! I SO GET IT! Praise the Lord for placing a person in your path who could be so helpful at that moment, I love it when those little things happen, is so good for the heart!

  9. Melissa says:

    Another autism mom here. Mine is a 4 year old girl and I’ve definitely had my share of tears. If you do ever decide to brave DL again, go straight to guest services and get an autism pass. It lets your group avoid lines on most of the attractions. We are making the trio next spring and that’s been the recommendation from therapists. I’m glad they helped you out and sometimes it helps to have someone cry with you. Hang in there.

    • Such a good tip! We are going to attempt Disney next year (first ever family vacation, we’ve been saving for years!) with our three kids, youngest is Autistic. I read somewhere else that we should pursue a special pass. Have you done it? Do you know what type of paperwork we would need ahead of time to make it happen and what good it would do us if we have it? Just curious since you mentioned it! Our trip is over a year away and I already have nerves about the unstructured, unpredictable chaos that is going to mess with my sweet girl’s head. :(

      • Melissa says:

        You just need to bring a copy of the IEP or other paperwork (diagnosis, note from the dr, etc) and the child into Town Hall on mainstream and ask for a disability pass. Make sure to bring the child and your whole party with you so that they can confirm everything. I’ve never done it, but we are planning on it next spring. It allows you to use the disability access line. Its not always a shorter wait because some of the rides only allow one disability group per turn. It does usually take you out of the ride queue. So one or the other. Expect that some people will give you dirty looks, and have some prepped responses ready. I’ve seen a suggestion to have a bunch of cards to hand out with a brief explanation and ‘please don’t stare or try to interact, that will only aggravate her.’ Good luck!

        • I was told they legally can’t ask to see your paperwork. We chose not to pursue the pass after giving it A LOT of thought. Might I pursue it next time? Maybe.

          • Melissa says:

            I just checked the official disneyland site and it doesn’t mention it at all. I’ve emailed customer service to get an official answer- everything I have found is from other blogs. No idea if they can’t legally ask for documentation. I would bet not, come to think of it, considering the disabilities act. If I find anything out from Disney officially, I’ll let you know. Char, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you guys decide not to get the pass?

          • I’m curious, too. Great information, gals! Thank you! All of the things I know are from other blogs, I hadn’t thought about it before, but technically I haven’t checked into if any of it is officially from Disney.

          • Char @ Crap I've Made says:

            Mostly because I didn’t want to get angry and cry. We’ve run into a whole lot of “your kid isn’t severe enough” (school district, occupational therapy, etc) and I didn’t really feel like having a sobbing melt down in the middle of guest services when I got rejected again. So, I just went with one in the middle of the park instead, I guess. :D

  10. You are not alone. I’ve broken down crying in public more times than I care to remember — at library storytime, the mall play area, the playground, the pool, etc. My son doesn’t have autism, but he does have cerebral palsy and can only be mobile in a powerchair. It’s definitely challenging (and at times, hard to feel like it’s anything other than unfair) to not be allowed a “normal” family experience. It sucks to be stared at and questioned and made to feel even more out of place than I already feel.

    We are good moms. No, we are INCREDIBLE moms. We care for and love on and worry for our children. We take on the challenge and don’t quit. You did good. :)

  11. Well…I totally understand…I have cried raising my ADHD son a million times and my 91 year old mother and her Parkinson’s a million more times. I also hate Disneyworld. Thank you for sharing your story that hits a Mom nerve everywhere…and family frequently enjoys the chicken enchilada recipe that your Mom made..posted from forever ago.

  12. Aww. Great post, Char. I think you rock as an autism mom. I’m glad to know there was someone for you in that crazy moment of need who “got it.” (And whose hug didn’t creep you out. ;)

    Also, my husband totally doesn’t get the Disneyland hype, so you can be commies together. (Me, I enjoy it, and it’s cool if there isn’t a crowd, but it’s not the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ if you know what I mean.)

  13. Roberta says:

    Bless you…I cried reading this. What a gift that lady was for you. I too went to Disneyland for the first time in 1984…Christmas time. :)

  14. Well here I sit, holding back the tears. That was the magic of Disney – not sure who those other folks were that gave you such a hard time but they are not true Disney employees – and I’m glad you got a little of it. I my children don’t have autism but I know how hard things can be with them some times so I can only begin to imagine what you might have to go through. I get the need to cry though and the need to just get a hug – I have my own set of circumstances that put me in that spot from time to time and I’m glad when you were in that place you had someone who got it nearby.

  15. I just wanted to drop in and give you a little hint given to me from a Cast Member at Disney, becase your child has autism you need to go to city hall 1st thing when you arrive, tell them about it and you and your family will get the royal treatment ALL DAY. They have special passes for family’s with disablilities.

  16. Mandy Kirk says:

    I have never commented before but couldn’t resist. I too have an 11 year old son with special needs, and TOTALLY got it when you said sometimes you just want a “normal” family experience. I do NOT like to be the center of attention, but because of my son a lot of times I have no choice. I totally would have cried as well. We do the best we can with these special kids, but man it sure is hard sometimes. I did crack up though when you were told his head couldn’t be on the ground! So glad that someone was able to help and spread a little magic, even if it was just so you knew you are not alone dealing with these issues!

  17. We’ve had the same experience at Disneyland – I so know what you’re going through!!! I am sorry it was so rough. The first time we went, our (then) 3-year-old had a few tantrums every day and it was horrible. We did go to City Hall at the beginning and they give you a pass so that your entire party can go to the front of the line. But still Alex had it rough. One amazing cast member saw us trying to comfort him during a 45-minute freakout and she asked if there was anything she could offer him, we said maybe something with some texture and she brought a toy back, it didn’t help much but eventually Alex calmed down. She was wonderful and we appreciated the gesture.

    I hope next time – ugh, I am not a fan of Disneyland, either – you have an easier time. I have totally been there and it just sucks.

  18. Thank goodness for kind people – it doesn’t happen often but when someone happens to be NICE to me it means the world.

  19. Yay for strangers who don’t judge and also the ones who get it. I am an aunt on both sides of the fam to kids; one with autism that is not fully diangosesd but may be Aspergers and one with specifically Aspergers. Yay for you!

  20. I think Disney can be overwhelming for “typically” developing kids. I decided to take my two kids (6&3) to see the Fantasmic Show by myself one night while my husband had a business dinner. Well, loud + scary + fire is not a good combo for my kids. Plus, there were huge crowds. And I was pregnant. Dumb. And I am a Special Ed. Teacher. Seriously, if you think about, there are big scary puppets everywhere, loud noises, fast rides, unexpected splashes or darkness. Who likes all of that in one day?

  21. Courtney says:

    I worked at the happiest place on earth for 5years. I can tell you that if you write a letter they can narrow down who helped you. All you need is a good description the date an to tell them that she got Brian. I am almost positive they are dron attactions/ guest control. My favorite part of working at the resort was helping families in stressful situations. I think I know who Brian is and he is an awesome CM! (the department I worked in I got a lot of park exposure and worked a lot with other departments.)

  22. We went to Disneyland a couple years ago with my son’s high school orchestra. That Star Tours ride almost claimed me too.

  23. I’m another mom of a child with ASD (8), and I totally understand where you are coming from. Sometimes it does get the better of you, and you have a mini-breakdown. I’m so glad that they were able to help you out like that. I’d definitely write and complain about the rude service you received, and about the great service you received. They really need to know about both.

  24. That IS the magic of Disney! And I am crying reading your post. I am not sure if it is because she was so nice to you or if I am jealous that she hugged you and you didn’t mind it! ;D

  25. So I’m sitting on the couch next to my husband and crying like an idiot from reading this post. I’m sure he thinks I’m crazy. I’m so glad someone was there for you. Ironically I am on vacation with my family right now with two days of theme parks ahead of us. Here’s hoping for the best. :) If not, I will remind myself of your words. I chose to be their mom and I am prepared.

  26. Weep.

    SUCH a good story.

  27. Laura/Readerwoman says:

    Tears here – but selfish ones of gratefulness that with my own handicaps (deafness, for one) my children did not provide me with these kinds of challenges when they were little. I know that sounds bad – but you are a REMARKABLE woman, and I admire you so much! My grandson, almost 11, has spent a year in therapy, including 5 nights in a psychiatric hospital. The current diagnosis is bi-polarism, but it seems to change weekly. I honor my daughter and her family, as I do yours, for her strength, her courage and and her never-ending love of a child who needs special attention. Blessings!

  28. Love this story–not that you cried at Disneyland, but that there are people with similar challenges who can strengthen us at just the right times. Thanks for sharing, Char!

  29. And random kindness makes a random follower randomly cry too.


  30. Char, I felt like I was reading a story from the FRIEND! Thanks for sharing! I adore your and your family! Air hugs and high five!

  31. I love this story. What a sweet kind lady. Made me cry. thanks for that. I like crying. :)

  32. Char….use that pass next time. Disneyland is suppose to be the happiest place on earth for EVERYONE in your party! You go through the exit and don’t have to wait in the crowded loud long lines. And when or if people stare just pretend you are Rock Stars with VIP passes. That is what we do. :)

    Also, go get your pass in the Customer Relations section in California Adventure if you are park hopping. No lines. And P.S. I usually am teary just asking for the pass…because of all the emotions involved. Afraid they think I’m lying, sad I have to ask and grateful it is available. I hope the workers know I’m sincere. Because the tears are.

    Give it one more chance and your kids will have an awesome ‘this is what we did for summer vacation’ paper to write when they back to school. Love and hugs to you sweet friend.
    xoxo, April

  33. My daughter, who has never been diagnosed with anything, has on many occasions freaked out in public. She has gotten much better over the years. Even with the small amount of occurances in our family outings I have developed an empathy that I am grateful for. It is such a helpless feeling to not be able to calm your child down quickly, for their sake and yours. I am so glad someone stepped in and offered support to you and your family. We ALL need that at times!

  34. So I read your post this morning on the way to my oldest daughter’s high school graduation – already on an emotional edge. Then I read your post and started bawling… I had to put it aside to deal with AFTER the graduation. My daughter that graduated has major mental health issues and I truly worried about this day ever even being a possibility. My younger two both have Aspergers. One high functioning, one low functioning. Oh there are days I could be on the verge of tears all day. This year in particular has been difficult and challenging. Reading all your post responses may actually persuade me to consider Disney some day. It is very difficult when our kids just can’t keep it together, we just don’t know what else to do – and we still need to worry about everything else going on around us. Today alone – my daughter graduated but was on the verge of a stroke as soon as it was over. My husband and I are dragging the younger two with Aspergers around, chasing her because she is having a panic attack and needs to get out of there right now. I had to leave him with two screaming kids while I chased her and made her feel safe again. This went on for about 45 minutes until we all caught up with one another again, moved to the car as quickly as we could and just sat there and regrouped until everyone calmed down. And through the entire ceremony our youngest daughter kept crying (literally) that she was sure our oldest daughter had been kidnapped because she couldn’t see her through the crowds of graduating students (neither could we). In the end, we made it through the day, she has her diploma and no one was kidnapped. Many times I am left to deal with all of this on my own. Fortunately, my husband was with me today and we were able to tag team it. Otherwise I probably would have dropped to my knees and cried too. I am glad you received some assistance. There should be more people like that in the world.

  35. Gah! have me CRYING LIKE A BABY!!!!
    Wish I could have been there with you….even though Disney is usually was hard for us the last time because we should have been taking our baby daughter and seeing all the princesses. I wanted to stomp and cyr of the unfairness!

    Oh….My husband sorta *ahem* gives Mickey the bird when we leave.
    LOVE YA!!!!

  36. rebecca.k says:

    Ok, now I am scared! We are planning our first trip to Disney in September with our kids, one of which has sensory processing disorder. I am hoping and praying for the best (and planning to keep my expectations low!). Thank you for sharing your experience. It is nice to know that others have the same issues with their kids and that someone out there ‘gets it’. :)

  37. Char yes the tears are welled up in my eyes as well!! Thank goodness for those who “get it’ when the rest of the world does not. I am the step mother to a 22 yr old who has special needs and it is difficult. Sometimes life is hard. As you stated you knew he was yours before he was “yours” here on earth what a comfort this can be at times.
    When I prepared for a trip to WDW I did a lot of research and did a lot of digging online. There are fantastic sites out there that can help with information on everything from getting a glass of water to participating with the flag ceremony. There are forums with people who post about true life experiences and with resources to how to navigate both parks with special need children and adults. The wealth of information is amazing. One site is I only put this URL as a resource and in no way am saying you have to use it I just think it might be helpful for your readers. If I am stepping on toes it is not my intention!!
    I think you are amazing Char I loved standing in line with you at the Queen Bee Market :-)that last night of SNAP!!! I was so grateful to get to know you a bit better.

  38. I have a child with autism and 2 typical children. We live in Orange County and our children asked for Disneyland passes for their birthdays in lieu of other gifts or a party. We have been twice since getting the passes. We chose not to ask for a disability pass, although, I have known others who made use of these. We did not want to have to justify our need for a pass to Disneyland. Of course, we had a pass so we could leave if things got too rough. If you are there for just a day or two, I imagine you wanted to squeeze everything in. My advice would be to make ample use of the Fastpass for those rides that have them. It made our second trip to Disneyland much more fun for all of us. The Fastpass allows you to bypass long lines for the rides and it really did work. You stick your ticket in the machine and it gives you a ticket that you can use to bypass the line an hour or two later. It made Disneyland a lot more fun. I really enjoy your blog and we have had many a day like you described. We just came back from a family reunion of sorts in another state and with all the change and travel, my son was not at his best. I wanted so much for my family (some of whom I have not seen for years) to see my son as the awesome kid that he is but it did not work out that way. Still I am glad that we went and you’ll be glad you went to DL too once you’ve recovered from the trauma. :)

  39. I read this last week and was dying to reply but waited till i wasn’t on the ipad
    I feel for you.
    That is precisely why we’ve never gone to disneyland and can’t see going.
    We HAVE done seaworld and legoland, but off-season so pretty much no lines (and they’re more chill than disney, i think). I got a disability pass (no documentation needed or anything) at legoland the first time, but the lines were crazy short, we didn’t need to use it. i was still crossing my fingers and making emergency plans as we started the parks – and he did great (again, no lines!) so I was ecstatic. Because that’s not what I was expecting. I was expecting your day.
    It’s hard.
    And sometimes you do just wish you could do ‘regular’ stuff easily.
    Big hugs. I’ve been there.

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