Posted in Atttitude, Autism, Life, Special Needs

A Rough Day

In the wake of needing to fulfil a basic human need, my son was subjected to public degradation, not once, not twice, but three times in a span of 20-minutes.

My son is a young man, afflicted with autism. His cognition is that of a toddler. His skills are improving, his speech is improving, he is not reciprocal with his language, but he understands. He understands everything. He is sensitive to people’s feelings and to their expressions.

Last week, he was made to feel like a piece of trash.

“Get out, you don’t belong here, you’re a man.” This is what the public restroom attendant told us both, as I was waiting with my son for a Handicapped stall in the female restroom.

I described my son’s condition to the attendant in front of others and that he requires assistance with toileting, I explained that we tried to wait for the one and only Family Restroom for a reasonable amount of time, but when my son expressed behaviours of urgency I had no choice but to enter the female restroom. She was unyielding. She maintained that he “could have waited for the Family Restroom and that he had to leave.”

When I was assisting my son with hand-washing, the attendant was still there reprimanding me and telling us that he doesn’t belong in the female washroom because he is a man. When we left the female washroom, the attendant followed us out and continued her reprimands. At that point, I could feel my anxiety rising and I chose to leave because I didn’t want my son to become even more upset. Curiously enough, the Family Restroom was still occupied. Twenty or so minutes had elapsed from the time we tried to use that restroom. Did the restroom attendant seriously expect my son to wait that long? Is that reasonable? Is it up to her who uses the restrooms? Is that in her job description?

What if my son was neuro-typical and in the process of a gender change not yet entirely complete, and his physical appearance was still that of a male, but he identified himself as a female? What then?

How can this person act this way?

I have since contacted my local Human Rights Tribunal and I have opened a file against the property managing company that owns this mall. I contacted the property managing company and expressed our experience and I was promised that by the end of September 2019, more Family Restrooms and a Universal Restroom would be in place, to accommodate all people. I was also informed that sensitivity training had already commenced for this particular restroom attendant and all others contracted out by that third party.

Update:

The local mall is almost finished completing the installation of three “Universal Washrooms” and one more “Family Restroom” (in addition to the original Family Restroom).

Success! Andrew’s challenging experience paved the way for better experiences for many people.

 

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Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Disney Social Media Celebration On The Road, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Special Needs, Travel, Vacation Planning

Private Cabanas at Disney’s Paradise in the Bahamas

Did you know that when you sail with Disney Cruise Line, most itineraries make one or even two stops at Disney Castaway Cay? This Disney island is located in the Bahamas and offers many excursions (Port Adventures) for Guests of all ages. You’ll find a Family Beach, Adult-Only Beach called, Serenity Bay and a Teen Beach, where you’ll enjoy complimentary beach loungers, chairs and large umbrella. As if that’s not enough, you’ll be treated to a delicious and bountiful beach barbecue!

We love renting a private Cabana for our day at Disney Castaway Cay because it offers peace, shelter and a lot of privacy which is perfect for keeping our son comfortable, enabling him to enjoy a full day on the island. The private Cabana offers, a roomy interior with sofa, chairs, a stocked mini-fridge, face towels, magazines, sunscreens and lotions, a corner change area with curtain, an outer covered verandah with large, cushioned loungers, a hammock, outdoor shower – great for rinsing off the sand, beach loungers, chairs and umbrella, the use of beach floatations, snorkel equipment, bikes, beach toys and a buzzer near the entrance, which will beckon a Cast Member who can restock your mini-fridge with water bottles, juices, fruit and snacks…and yes, they’ll bring you a Konk Kooler, or libation for a cost.

My experience with booking private Cabanas is that you have to book within your booking window for Port Adventures and do so as soon as possible, because they’re popular. I have a few tips (not guaranteed but worth a try) if you can’t book one online. Keep checking back online because someone may cancel. As well, when you board the ship on the first day, check again and every day of your sailing with the Port Adventures Desk. The day you dock at Disney Castaway Cay, catch the Tram to Pelican Point and go to the Cabanas Check-In Booth and inquire again – this is how we scored our very first Cabana the year they became available. Now, as Platinum Castaway Cay Club members, we have an earlier booking window. As well, if you are sailing in Concierge Level, you too, will have an earlier booking window.

As a mom of an autistic teenage boy, I cannot say enough how helpful it is utilizing a private Cabana. My son, enjoys the beach, but will tire easily, so he has the option of resting on the covered verandah on a cushy lounger watching his favourite Disney movies, or swinging to his hearts content on a hammock all to himself and for my motion seeker, that’s the perfect solution!

Disney Cruise Line, where “There’s Something for Everyone.”

Cabana Sign Psarianos

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks Moms Panel, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Europe, Jackie's Adventures, Special Needs, Travel, Uncategorized

Andrew Soared Sailing with Disney Cruise Line

Who would have thought that we could take our son to Europe? We never, ever thought this would be possible, ever, and we consider ourselves hopeless optimists which has kept us going year after year after year through these chapters called, autism.

We were blown away during our recent sailing on the Disney Magic throughout the Mediterranean seeing our son acclimate so well and I’ll say this – it’s because of our past sailings with Disney Cruise Line. It’s because of the familiarity having sailed all four ships in the fleet (with more to come in the near future). You see, while each ship has its own distinctive features, there are many similarities with the others that create consistency and through that, foster an environment of security. Here’s how they do it:

  • the staterooms all have similar layouts, furniture design and fabrics
  • the basic colours both inside and out are similar
  • the basic layouts of the ships are basically similar
  • the rotational dining system in the three main dining rooms carries throughout the fleet
  • the youth clubs, while slightly varied, do evoke a sense of familiarity offering a welcoming and friendly vibe in all

Andrew can take you almost anywhere onboard. In fact, he quite often leads the way, usually ten paces ahead of us. Yes, it’s become that easy for us. He knows the routine well now. When we open our stateroom door, he knows exactly what to expect and where he will sleep and proceeds to ‘organize his space’ if I may, where he lays out all his comforts from home – his iPad, his tactile, sensory toys to name a few things. It’s all become systematic and seamless. You can see him doing this in the photo below – he’s organizing, as he calls it.

Then, let’s talk about the Port Adventures. We did all of them in Europe because of all the logistical planning and mostly the peace of mind. With Disney Cruise Line you get all of that and much more. On each and every Port Adventure, the guides did all they possibly could to ensure Andrew was comfortable, safe and happy, but most of all, they valued him for who he was and made him feel included. One example, is how Andrew was asked to lead the Port Adventures group straight to the Acropolis of Athens by carrying the group sign. I cannot tell you how his confidence soared right before our very eyes and what great hope that gave us, seeing him so proud and happy. He was all smiles for the entire cruise.

This is what keeps us coming back for more with the cruise line where “there’s something for everyone.”

 

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Social Media, Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, Europe, Special Needs, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World

2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration

Have you ever heard of the Disney Parks Blog? Did you know that you can follow any official (and I take ‘official’ seriously because there’s merit to that word) Disney news and information by connecting with Disney Parks on Social Media? These social media outlets are where you will read about factual information so you can form your own opinion based on your personal needs and likes. Many enthusiastic contributors through many hours of dedication, create entertaining and pleasingly informative posts filled with news and photos that bring ‘happy’ news straight to you.

Through these social media platforms be prepared to connect and hear all about what’s new, what’s re-imagined and what’s on the horizon from the colourful palette steered by The Walt Disney Company at the 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration – from what I feel is the ‘most Magical & Happiest’ conference this year! This conference will take place at Walt Disney World Resort placing paying attendees at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort – (which itself is undergoing a massive re-imagination, so stay tuned), followed by a sailing on the third ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the Disney Dream.

For all official announcements during this conference, please follow the handle @DisneyMoms with Hashtag #DisneySMMC on Twitter; the official Disney Parks Blog website; their Facebook Page – Disney Parks Blog; their Instagram page – @DisneyParksBlog; the Disney Parks and Resorts page using their Twitter handle- @DisneyParks.

I will be sharing official news during my attendance, as well as posting, at times, my personal experience (not opinions) as a parent travelling with a special needs teenage son, mostly in part to help other people in my similar situation understand the value and benefits of vacationing at the Disney Parks, Resorts and Destinations, so that, hopefully, one day soon, they too, may experience life-changing moments at “The Most Magical Place on Earth” at Walt Disney World Resort, “The Happiest Place on Earth” at Disneyland Resort, or where, “There’s Something for Everyone” sailing with Disney Cruise Line.

Those that have followed me on social media, know that for years, I have been diligently and consistently sharing the Disney brand throughout all my social media outlets, multiple times daily (not only when I believe it will benefit me) but because I have a passion for this brand and all that it has done to positively impact my family, especially my son. Testament to this, is that we’ve visited both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort a combined 45 times, sailed with Disney Cruise Line 12 times on all four ships in the fleet, including a Mediterranean sailing, toured The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank California and have visited Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawai’i all since 1998. We definitely love experiencing “The Disney Difference”!

Thank you and get ready for the “Most Magical & Happiest News on Earth” with the 2018 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration!

 

 

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Parks, MagicBands, My Disney Experience, Special Needs, Travel, Vacation Planning, Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World Resort

Andrew and Disney’s MagicBands

Andrew would never tolerate wearing anything on his wrist in the early days, so when the whole Disney MagicBand system came about I knew I had to do something and not resort to relying on my Theme Park Admission Cards for fear of losing them. Not only that, taking them out of my wallet every time was something I really didn’t need to do. I also didn’t want to exclude him from wearing a MagicBand by carrying his. Andrew needed to learn, so I began with ‘first and then’ using the attraction visuals I could pull up with My Disney Experience mobile app. I would show Andrew the attraction photo paired with the actual MagicBand, because I knew he loved the attraction – thereby he would associate the MagicBand with ‘good things’. From there, I phased in ‘first MagicBand, then attraction’ with an immediate, tangible reinforcer – his ‘in a million pieces Oreo cookie’ from which I would give him a snippet so he wouldn’t be emptying an entire bag of Oreo’s – see where I’m going? Repeated trials? Many. Was it worth it? Yes. He eventually tolerated and wore the MagicBand. Today, he wears two MagicBands, one on each wrist – that’s how much he loves them!

Customizing the MagicBand with his favourite colour certainly helped a great deal, too. Once your Walt Disney World Resort vacation is booked and you’ve linked your Disney Resort hotel reservation to your Disney account, you can begin personalizing your complimentary MagicBand – one of many select Disney Resort hotel Guest benefits.

MagicBands

Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Company – Disney Parks Blog

Disney Parks has also helped us out a great deal with their FastPass+ Service at Walt Disney World Resort because we can book 3 select attractions for each Theme Park, each day, 30-days before our scheduled visit, or, 60-days before our select Disney Resort hotel reservation check-in date. All this is linked to our MagicBands (after we associate our Disney Resort hotel reservation to our Disney account) and managed with My Disney Experience online and through the My Disney Experience mobile app. So now, Andrew can see what his day will look like by viewing our FastPass+ selections, dining reservations, shows and much more, for each day of our visit, which resembles his daily schedule board at home. It’s a perfect ‘first & then’ scenario and Disney got it just right! There are a lot of dedicated folks behind the scenes, doing a lot of research and working really hard.

Then, to make things even better for Andrew – Disney Parks offers Services for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities in efforts to afford all Guests an inclusive and enjoyable experience. A plethora of services are offered with special needs Guests in mind, and if you need any help you can stop by Guest Relations inside any of the four Theme Parks and speak with a Cast Member, who will help you select the service that’s best for you or your family member. This is one of the many reasons we keep coming back – all of these services have assisted and fostered Andrew’s developmental growth over the course of our vacations, bringing him even closer to us and affording him the chance to experience true, sincere happiness.

Andrew is now able to look at all of our FastPass+ selections and direct us to the respective attraction. He is able to approach the FastPass+ queue, wait his turn and tap his MagicBand to the Mickey Touch-Point. He loves it when the light spins green (that’s a totally sensory-driven thing) which gets him all excited and thus reinforcing in itself!

That is HUGE for our family!

For Disney Vacation planning assistance please stop by the Disney Parks Moms Panel where you can ask my fellow dedicated panelists specific questions, or check out some of my answers on the site.

Thank you for visiting  my Blog and remember, “Life IS a Bowl of Cherries”.

Posted in Autism, Disney, Disney Parks, Disney Parks Moms Panel, Disney Social Media, Life, Special Needs, Travel, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World Resort

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village, Walt Disney World Resort

No vacation to Walt Disney World Resort is long enough, be it 5-days or 5-weeks, in my opinion, so when we decided to return for our adventures with close family, we booked Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village for 2-weeks. The plan was to alternate Theme Park with Resort hotel days – the best of both worlds, and it worked like a charm. The benefits of staying on property are plenty, with the biggest convenience of being able to head back to your Resort hotel to relax and enjoy the unique theming, which for us was to watch an active savanna from our authentically themed main lobby or Guest Room balcony.  We truly were just as excited about hanging around Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village, as we were to tour the Theme Parks and Disney Springs. The view of the savanna from our balcony was incredible. Disney Resort hotels can easily be vacation destinations all on their own.

Kidani Balcony

The best part? Andrew and his look of realization seeing the animals in their natural habitat right from our accommodations. Now that was something to see and hear about, with bursts of verbal animal identification that we didn’t know he knew.

Andrew Kidani

And, this look of wonderment at The Most Magical Place on Earth, where many think it’s all about amusement parks. Well, that may be, but Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks are on another level – a level of uniqueness and immersion that magically transports you to a place where all your troubles are left behind – thanks to the creativity of talented, enthusiastic and dedicated Disney Imagineers.

For us? It’s about the entire vacation experience and all the surprises we see from Andrew. It’s about the bursts of language, the connections he makes to his beloved Disney animated movies when the Disney Characters come alive, or, when he walks into a storybook setting that he becomes a part of. This makes leaving our Disney vacation extremely difficult for fear of what we will miss upon our return home.

Andrew and Buzz

Such as this photo above with his buddy Buzz Lightyear, during our visit to Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Resort. The direct eye contact took mere seconds and Buzz had Andrew’s attention for a solid 20-minutes of fun and frolic. We can’t wait to take him to experience Radiator Springs Racers back at Disney California Adventure Park this summer, which I’m certain he’ll make the connection to his beloved Test Track attraction!

That’s the magic of Disney.

Posted in Disney Cruise Line, Disney Parks, Disney Parks Moms Panel, Disney Social Media, Disney Vacation Club, Europe, Special Needs, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World Resort

My BIGGEST Personal Dream Came True

Disney MP 2016

The Disney Parks Moms Panel is an official Disney online forum where Disney travel enthusiasts with first-hand knowledge answer returning and potential Guests questions regarding Disney Parks planning. The advice and tips presented to Guests is unparalleled with the abundant depth of knowledge from first-hand experience. Panelists represent various Disney Parks destination specialties around the globe, such as Disneyland Resort in California, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, runDisney and ESPN Wide World of Sports. As well, panelists are well versed with Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa and Adventures by Disney. Best of all, most panelists have a rich tapestry of combined destination experiences, as well as knowledge of travel with special needs family members, and multiple languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and French.

After eight years of applications, (which typically begin in September), progressing through three rounds, and a telephone interview, I was invited for a coveted spot representing the Walt Disney World Resort Specialty! I couldn’t be more grateful and pleased for this important opportunity in assisting returning and potential Disney Parks Guests with their vacation planning. This year for me will be one that I cherish every single moment of answering questions and helping people create life-long, unforgettable memories with their visits to the Walt Disney World Resort. If you’re interested in applying, check the Disney Parks Blog for official application announcements late August or early September.

My Disney Parks experience begins with over 30 visits as a Walt Disney World Resort hotel Guest at over 12 of their resort hotels and Disney Vacation Club Villas. I have celebrated each of my children’s birthdays, except 5 at Walt Disney World Resort and with Disney Cruise Line. I have stayed and played at Disneyland Resort in California and at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa in Hawai’i. As well, I have sailed with Disney Cruise Line fleet wide on the Caribbean, and Mediterranean itineraries as a Platinum Castaway Club member with over 11 sailings.

That’s how much I love anything related to Disney! I would be honoured to assist you with your upcoming or potential Disney Parks vacation, just look for Jacqueline P. from Ontario over at the Disney Parks Moms Panel representing Walt Disney World Resort.

Jackie Acropolis