October 28, 2015

Autism at Dollywood: Our Dollywood Therapy Session

We went to Dollywood!  After we went to Special Needs Day at our local county fair, we decided we could handle Dollywood.  We stayed at Wilderness at the Smokies.  The indoor waterpark was fun and the room was nice, but it was an overwhelming place to stay for us, and our room was not even close ready when it was supposed to be.

Dollywood was amazing.  All of the staff was very friendly, and the park is very charming.  

We won some tickets in a silent auction, but we still had to buy three more tickets.  (By the way, Dollywood donated those silent auction tickets to our school fundraiser, so more brownie points for them!)  We went to guests services to get our silent auction tickets and to ask where to go for accommodations for people with special needs.  (Of course, we called ahead of time to find out what they offer...a must for an vacation with a child with autism.)  The woman behind the counter gave us 30% off of the rest of our tickets!  She said, "You have enough stress in your life!"  It was such a pleasant surprise, and we were very grateful.

They gave us a disability pass that acts as a fast pass for the whole family for the rides that have super long lines.  You do still have to wait a few minutes with the fast pass.  The lines in the kids area were very short - often times we didn't have to wait at all.  There were a couple bigger kid rides we went on with a monstrous line, and we got to hop right to the front with our disability pass.  Brandon did a great job waiting in the short lines for the kid rides, but a 45 minute wait is not feasible for him at this time.  He doesn't understand the concept of waiting.  Having small lines to work with helped us to teach him how to wait.  We were able to teach him that he is indeed going to get to ride, he just can't go the second we walk up there.  He started to understand that we were actually waiting for the ride, whereas before he thought he simply wasn't getting not the ride.  Not only that, any tantrum throwing he did before (at the fair) was probably perceived by him as how he got to ride the rides eventually - not because it was actually our turn.  He likely assumed we gave into his antics.

Switching to a 45 minute wait would negate all the work we had done so far.  He got to enjoy Dollywood without one single meltdown.

I was a little nervous about the disability pass.  Autism is an invisible disability.  When people saw us essentially cut the line, what would they think?  I don't care what they think about me - that's not what the nervousness was about.  I want people to understand that not all disability is physically apparent.  When I realized we were going to the fast pass line, it was evident that the people we cut in line would assume we had a fast pass...not that we had a family member with a disability.  Still, I felt the urge to say, "Our son has autism.  Cutting this line is going to prevent him from having a meltdown, and learn how to wait in lines."  It's not about what people think about us.  It's about what people know about autism.  We are everywhere.

Obviously, I did not give everyone at Dollywood a crash course lesson about autism.  Although, in the back of my mind I was coming up with comebacks if anyone did have some comment about us cutting the line.  I do that frequently...more than I'd like to admit.  I want to know the perfect thing to say to put people in their place so they think twice about running their mouths in the future, but to also educate, so that they don't even feel the need to open their mouths in the first place.  Maybe they will give a heartfelt smile instead.

Not only did he have a blast, but Brandon had a learning opportunity.  It was like Dollywood therapy session!  He made giant steps towards learning to wait.

This autism family will definitely be back at Dollywood!

October 18, 2015

Getting Older in Age But Delayed Developmentally

Tonight I was cooking dinner, and Brandon fell off the couch.  My husband, James, was in the living room and comforted him.  Brandon, being the mamas boy that he is, came in the kitchen to me for some love.  Since he is nonverbal and can't say, "Mommy, I'm hurt," he tugged on my arm.  This is not at all unusual.  I said, "I'll look at your foot in just a second baby."  (He doesn't understand something so abstract, but I always talk to him as though he does.)  I gave one last stir to the pasta and before I knew it he had tugged on me so hard that I hit the floor.  


He toppled down with me.  I knocked my knees so hard on the floor that started crying.  James came and help me up then scooped up Brandon.  Brandon was silent.  He laid his head on James shoulder and just looked so sad.

I think he knew he was responsible, but he didn't really understand what as happening.  My heart broke for him.

Brandon is four years old now, and is still nonverbal.  He will approximate anything you tell him to say, but it is often pretty unclear.  The only word he says on his own with meaning is "cheese," and that is only with about 50% accuracy.

He's getting older.  He's bigger and stronger, but developmentally in many ways he is still like a one-year-old.  As soon as the language comes, things will be drastically different.

I don't want anyone reading this story to think he's a bad kid. Brandon is just struggling to communicate with people who do not understand him...with people who he does not understand.

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