Autism and Disneyland

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It's been a long time since I have written about autism.  I haven't forgotten about my sons, just been busy with therapy, settling down in San Diego, and getting used to the new rhythm.  But, as I have already promised a more through review of Disney's new guest assistance program, and I've had some time to experience it with my family, I wanted to let everyone know what I think about it and how it works. 

First, let me preface this review with a word of acknowledgement:  Disney doesn't have to do anything for those with autism.  No other park or aquarium of which I am aware provides special accessibility for those on the spectrum (feel free to correct me if there is one).  But because they are Disney, and we became accustomed to the guest pass in prior use, as a community we felt as though an entitlement was lost.  Nothing was further from my mind, though I felt my visit to a Disney theme park would be complicated by the new program.
With the new program, a family with a disability no longer gets immediate access to a ride.  Instead all those with disabilities are given a time slot for that ride that is equivalent to waiting in line, and can return to the ride at or after that time for access.  Those with a physical need, such as a walker, wheelchair, cane, or other visually clear disability will receive a ticket at that ride with a hand-written return time.  Those with a less visually obvious disability, such as autism, are required to receive a special guest assistance pass from City Hall.  That then becomes a sort of "fast pass" that allows the guest to queue one ride at a time.  So instead of flittering from ride to ride, guests now are required to wait, just not in line.  Once you have used your scheduled pass, you find a posted guest relations representative in one of four locations throughout the park, and schedule your nest ride.  By the way, if you have an Annual Pass, then you can have your guess assistance pass extended for 60 days.  
After attending the busy weekend of Valentines Day (busy because of the Presidents Day holiday for California schools) and several other holidays since, I think we have got a feel for the system.  It is not as convenient as the prior system, but I will say it is more fair for all guests.  One concern my wife and I always had was the feeling of abusing the passes.  We tried not to use them when possible, so our visits only changed in Fantasyland where the rides tend to be constantly busy.  
My likes about the program are:
  1. You are forced to find the less frequented attractions, and therefore enjoy being  the park instead of rushing from ride to ride.  It actually makes for a better experience, in my opinion.  You get to enjoy the quiet areas of the park, those not frequented by everyone and their dog because they are not rides.  
  2. It makes the experience more like others who go to Disneyland, only the waiting is mostly taken out of hitherto question.  That means you still wait, but you are onto waiting in line.  You don't have to suffer waiting two hours in the heat when you would rather get something to eat (like ice cream).  It's all about scheduling your time, planning out when to hit a ride and when to eat.  
  3. You can take your time at the park.
  4. The shows!  Never before have I seen all the shows that are available at Disneyland and California Adventure until this program was put in place.  As we are no longer spending time rushing from one ride to another, we look for less stressful options.  Shows are things you think about watching, maybe, if you have time, right?  Well, now we have time.  So we finally saw Aladdin, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and several other shows, which the kids enjoy because it's very low-key.
Somethings that I don't like about the program: 
  1. Parades still are a problem.  At California Adventure we found a great place for the boys to watch the parade (just outside the entrance of Muppet Vision 3D) which is great, but still need to find a good place at Disneyland.  Please send any suggestions, if you have some out-of-the-way parade location that's away from much of the noise and you can still see a good portion of the parade. 
  2. Shopping is a harrowing experience that isn't addressed by the program, and I'm not sure how it could be.  The point of Disneyland is to first, provide entertainment, and second generate revenue (some may switch that order).  The shops are great, and there are some out-of-the-way shops that are generally not that busy, but those that are popular are often very, very crowded.  My solution to that would be to have an online shopping experience, perhaps tied to your ticket to get access to Disneyland-specific merchandise?  Sure, you don't get the impulse buy, but for families with a child on the spectrum, you wouldn't get it anyway.  This way you can still get the purchase without the pain.
  3. Entrance line.  Before you can even get your assistance pass, you have to wait in line to get in.  This could easily be resolved with the new bracelet that Walt Disney World in Florida is implementing and testing, because your assistance pass could already be built into the bracelet to provide a better, quicker entrance experience.  It would need to be played with, I'm sure, but it could be great!
  4. Food lines.  We normally find a good restaurant in the park that will serve what everyone will eat, and has an out-of-the-way seating area.  My wife and kids will then sit down while I get the food.  Now, Disneyland, like many amusement parks and similar (San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld as two examples) has high quality food for the price, and that means it takes time to process your order.  That means the kids, who are already hungry, need to wait even after the food is ordered.  My suggestion that would be very effective, and work well once the bracelets are implemented, would be to provide a notification option when the food is prepared and ready for you to pick up.  The San Diego Zoo's Safari Park has the wireless coasters used at a number of different restaurants that does the same thing, but if Disney perhaps allowed for a text notification, or something similar, that would be great!