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Special Needs Kids at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique! 074



I have a super-fun special feature for you this week. We’re going behind the scenes at Cinderella Castle’s Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique with a recent graduate of the Disney College Program! As a Fairy Godmother-in-Training, Ellie had plenty of experience making magic for kids with special needs and she’ll be sharing some of her favorite memories of working at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Ellie is studying special education and speech, so she has a keen interest in families with special needs children. She writes a blog about her Disney College Program experience called Ellie Earns her Ears; recently she posted Be Prepared – Advice for Princesses with Special Needs. Here is a small sample of her advice:

  • When you meet your fairy godmother
    • Let her know about your child’s needs. You don’t need to give your child’s diagnoses, but letting her know that she is sensitive to sound, touch or smell is important. If your child feels more comfortable with her glasses on, address that (I wear glasses, so I know how important that is to me, but for fairy godmothers who don’t wear glasses, they may not be as quick to realize this), if your child wears hearing aids or has a cochlear implant, ask that the fairy godmother leaves them on for as much as the process as possible. If you know your child will have a hard time sitting, let her know, and she can try to get a buddy to make things easier for your child. Whatever your child’s needs are, let your fairy godmother know.
    • If your child is a cancer survivor, or has dealt with severe medical issues, your fairy godmother may be able to create some extra magic. Understandably, some families would rather not talk about these difficulties while on vacation. However, I can say that when families told me their personal struggles, I was able to create some personalized magic for those children that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, so it is worth mentioning if you feel comfortable.
    • If your child has allergies, ask to read the bottles of hair product. I’ve seen some parents be concerned about the detangler because it smells fruity, so it is worth reading if your child could have a reaction.


Photo: Disney

Photo: Disney


Tip of the Week:

This week’s tip is about a new MagicBand accessory available for purchase at the Walt Disney World Resort. Thanks to listener IRENE RODRIGEZ for sharing a blog posted this past week on This is a specialty fan website for collectors of graphic and rare Disney MagicBands, hosted by ETHAN ALLEN.








A new MagicBand accessory was released on June 26th called a MagicBand Keeper. These are stuffed accessories that come in the form of either a Mickey hand or a Minnie bow. Perhaps you’ve seen the big white Mickey glove that Disney Cast Members sometimes wave with? The glove looks like that and the Minnie bow looks like a stuffed red bow with white polka dots – cute

Your MagicBand connects around Mickey hand on the Keeper, like it would on someone’s wrist. On the bow, it wraps around the center portion. There is a plastic retracting spring and a plastic hook that connects the Keeper to your stroller, backpack or wheelchair. The Keeper makes it easier for a person to grab their MagicBand, touch the FP+ point, and let it snap back.

MagicBand Keepers are now available throughout the Walt Disney World Resort for $14.95: and although some feel this is way too pricey for an accessory, it is comparable to what the same-sized plush would cost in the parks.

I can definitely see this being used for a child or adult who has sensory issues and is adverse wearing the plastic MagicBand on the wrist, OR perhaps someone who lacks strength or coordination required to touch a wrist to a sensor point in just the right way for it to light up easily.

This may not be something that is of interest to everyone. For example, I can see a very young child not really caring whether Mom or Dad wears the MagicBand for him or carries it in a bag.  But, it could simply be a fun way to keep the Band handy so parents don’t have to keep reaching in and out of a diaper bag or back pack all day.

And if you’re talking about a teen or an adult who may NOT want someone else to carry the MagicBand for him, this could be a helpful tool for maintaining that all-important sense of independence and self-reliance. Keep that in mind.

Thanks for the tip, Ethan!

And if you are into collecting Disney MagicBands, please check out

Mousekeeping: If you would like to receive an email notification when Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide becomes available on, visit

Thanks for listening!




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So, a Special Mouse and a Big Fat Panda walk into a bar…


Just Kidding!

But I WAS a guest on John Saccheri’s Big Fat Panda Show this month — check it out!

Thanks for having me, John, and for shining a light on Special Mouse and it’s mission to give a voice to Disney Guests with Special Needs!

In addition to his monthly video show, John posts lots of Walt Disney World videos to his YouTube channel each month, many of them Point-of-View attraction videos (which my son, Billy, just loves!)


~ Kathy

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New Food Allergy-Friendly Disney Menus with Allergy Free Mouse 073



It seems as though food allergies are really on the rise and in an informal survey that I conducted in the Special Mouse podcast Facebook group last week, I learned about some of the many food allergies our listeners have to manage on a daily basis.

For example, there were many who had allergies that are more common (such as tree nuts, peanuts, gluten or wheat, shellfish, eggs and milk) and many that are less common but just as problematic (such as red wine, lemons, bananas, mangos, chocolate, corn and even onions!) And, out of the twenty-something people who responded, eight have multiple food allergies. One mother shared that her son is allergic to 20 different foods! That is a lot to manage!

My featured guest on today’s show is Lizzie Reynolds from Allergy Free Mouse and we are chatting about the new food allergy-safe menus that have been popping up all over the Disney theme park and resort hotels restaurants, both table and quick service. We’ll also be giving you valuable tips for staying food allergy safe when dining with The Mouse!


(I decided to leave in an “interruption” by my son, Billy because — well — this is my life with a special-needs child!!)


The Disney Parks have completely banned the use of “selfie sticks.” If you’re not familiar, these are extendable metal sticks with a handle on one end and a clamp on the other end to hold a phone or camera in place so you take a picture of yourself.

Well, as of June 30th, they will no longer be allowed inside the parks. And, from what I’m told by Chrissie in the UK, that’s not just here in the U.S. but in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo as well.

Margo from Portland, Oregon says “They’ll need to stop selling them in downtown Disney Stores, then. We just saw them in a store there yesterday. I would be quite peeved if I bought something on Disney property and then was told it wasn’t allowed.” Totally agree, Margo!

Personally, coming from a safety standpoint, I’m in favor of the new policy. My hats off to the hard-working security staff who now, in addition to checking bags for guns, knives and bombs, must spend their valuable time (and ours) looking for selfie-stick contraband.

So, what do you think? Are you for or against the new policy?

Tweet me @SpecialMousePod or post your answer on the Special Mouse Podcast Facebook page!

Tip of the Week

I routinely get questions about how to use the alternate entrance accommodation for guests who plan to use a wheelchair or scooter for endurance challenges – meaning, they have the ability to walk and transfer to standard attraction vehicles — who also require the DAS accommodation for a cognitive disability. The same applies to those using the stroller-as-wheelchair accommodation for children with sensory issues who will also be using the DAS.

Often I hear people complaining that there is “no consistency” regarding the implementation of these dual accommodations at the attractions; that they read on a certain forum or FB group that someone had a different experience then they did.

I can certainly understand how frustrating it is not to be able to find a definitive answer about combining the accommodations, but the search, quite honestly, is futile because there really isn’t one answer. This is due to several reasons, (1) Some attractions have queues that are physically accessible to wheelchairs while others do not, (2) These are changing all the time as more and more queues are being renovated to make them accessible (3) Queuing procedures can change from park to park, month to month and even throughout the DAY according to the individual attraction, how busy it is at the park, even with the weather!

Listener Debi Dame visits the parks with her daughter who has both physical and cognitive challenges and she says, “We’ve been on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train several times and have been loaded 3 different ways now, even on the same day!”

So, my tip for you is to anticipate changes in procedure. Communicate your needs to the attraction Cast Members, follow their instructions and try to remain flexible. The only time you should object is if it is a matter of safety. Remember, you WILL get to ride, and the most important thing is to keep you and your family safe while queuing up and boarding.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanks for listening!

Now you know that I rarely ask this, but, if you use iTunes to listen, would you kindly rate and/or review the Special Mouse Podcast? Reviews really do help boost the podcast in the iTunes directory, helping more people to find the show, and it’s easy to do.

You simply open your iTunes store app in your phone (or on your browser).

Type Special Mouse in the search box and click on it when it pops up.

Under the title you’ll see “ratings and reviews.” Click on it and leave your rating and or comments.

It’s as easy as that — thank you!

~ Kathy

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Adventures by Disney Trip Report: Germany Using a Wheelchair – 072



Willkommen! This week’s feature is truly a special trip report, because although we’ve visited Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris and the Disney Cruise Line in past trip reports, today I’m bringing you our first-ever Adventures by Disney report! Our good friend, Mike Greer, is back – this time to tell us all about his 2012 Adventures by Disney trip to Germany. Warning: we talked for a long, long time!



Photo: Adventures by Disney


You may recall that Mike was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily. It is also known as “brittle bone disease.” Mike uses a wheelchair to get around, so he shares lots of information on the wheelchair accessibility of this particular Adventures by Disney trip itinerary. We also talked about the ways in which he prepared himself physically to push his manual wheelchair over grass and cobblestone roads.

Mike covers the Germany vacation in depth:

  • Their accessible airport “adventure” in Frankfurt!
  • Their stay at HOTEL SCHLOSS WALDECK, an 11th-century castle-turned-resort, perched high above the Edersee.
  • Touring the charming town of Waldeck, including archery, beer-tasting, and a scenic ferry ride on Lake Edersee.
  • Touring the lavish LÖWENBURG CASTLE.
  • Visiting the famous STEIFF BEAR MUSEUM. The company’s founder, Margaret Steiff, invented the teddy bear.
  • Pretzel-Making at STRIFFLER BAKERY, the oldest bakery in Rothenburg.
  • A lamp-lit walk with the night watchman in Rothenburg.
  • Their visit to the snowy-white NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE — an inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland ® Park.
  • A scenic ride on the “ROMANTIC ROAD” to Munich.
  • And much more.

Photo: Adventures by Disney


If you would like more information about Adventures by Disney, including a complete list of destinations worldwide, please visit the official website,

Tip of the Week:

Summer afternoons at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida are notoriously hot, humid, crowded and often rainy. My first recommendation is that your return to your resort for an afternoon break or swim, but if you want to stay in the parks, plan to see indoor shows or smaller attractions. Don’t try to fight the crowds at the popular ones and don’t plan to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Here are some great summer afternoon choices that typically do not require the use of a FastPass+ reservation:

Magic Kingdom: The Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress, Country Bears Jamboree, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.

Epcot – Future World: Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Innoventions, and the aquarium exhibits at The Seas pavilion.

Epcot – World Showcase: The American Adventure and the movies in the Canada, France and China pavilions.

Animal Kingdom: It’s Tough to be a Bug, Finding Nemo: the Musical, and the indoor activities at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Disney Studios: One Man’s Dream, MuppetVision 3D and the Magic of Disney Animation.

* * * * * * * * * * *


I’ve received several emails and Facebook messages from folks who missed the Kickstarter, but are interested in obtaining Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide. The book is still a work-in-progress, but if you would like an email notification when it becomes available on Amazon, please visit and sign up!

Thank you for listening!



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The BIG question: WHEN will “Walt Disney World with Autism” be published?

I’m working on bringing you the absolutely BEST book that I can! It’s my goal to publish Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide by the end of 2015.



Readers will learn:

  • How to prepare themselves and their children with Autism for the intensity of the Walt Disney World experience, both mentally and physically
  • How to involve your child’s teachers and therapists in the preparation process
  • How to successfully plan for the logistics of a Walt Disney World vacation with their child’s special needs in mind
  • How to manage specific sensory, behavior, communication and safety challenges while at the theme parks
  • How to assist teens and young adults with Autism to cope with the demands of a Walt Disney World vacation while fostering their independence
  • How to balance the needs of the entire family, including typical siblings and grandparents, with the needs of the child with Autism
  • How to plan for and request dietary accommodations for Gluten-Free and other special diets
  • How to access theme park services and accommodations, in particular, the Disability Access Service Card
  • How to tour Walt Disney World with a Trained Autism Service Dog
  • How to take advantage of local resources available to families with Autism
  • And much, much more!


Thanks so much for your interest in Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide!


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Kathy’s Trip Report: Walt Disney World with a Teenager who has Autism

The tables are turned as guest co-host Kim Slusher from the DIStracted Life podcast interviews Kathy about her family’s latest Walt Disney World vacation with a teenager who has Autism!


We talked about many things, including:

How I prepared for visiting Walt Disney World with the challenges of my son’s autism.

Our l-o-n-g two-day drive from New Jersey to Florida (and why we chose to drive instead of fly.)

My impression of the one-bedroom villa at Disney’s Bay Lake Tower.

My son’s first experience using Magic Bands, the DAS (Disney’s accommodation for guests with cognitive and behavioral disabilities), and how we managed when attractions broke down.

Our VIP backstage meet ‘n greet with the cast of Finding Nemo: The Musical!


Our experience with the Frozen Summer Kickoff, a 24-hour event at the Magic Kingdom, and how that and the Memorial Day holiday affected crowds.

The first-ever Special Mouse Podcast listener  Walt Disney World meet-up!


It was fun meeting some of you “in real life.”

The importance of taking breaks, both during your day and during your vacation.

…and much more!

Kim’s two children also have “invisible” special needs. Our respective experiences with the DAS were discussed at length, including our overall impression of the new system of accommodation and how it may not truly accommodate all people on the autism spectrum.


Image 1350

Here’s Kim with her lovely family!

I’ll return with the usual show format next week.

Thanks for listening!


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Teen with Cerebral Palsy is Rolling with the Disney Magic! 071

DOW Logo

Today’s feature guest is Andrew Prince from Ohio.  Andrew is a contributing writer of Disney on Wheels for the WDWRadio blog.  He was born with cerebral palsy and gets around in a wheelchair. (Cerebral palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.)

Andrew is an experienced wheelchair traveler and has been to both US Disney parks, several D23 events and is a DCL gold castaway member!


Andrew’s Disney travels began with a trip to Walt Disney World in 2003, where he met his first “crush,” Mary Poppins! Since then, he and his Disney-loving family have traveled and cruised extensively with Disney. He hopes that his blog will encourage others with cerebral palsy or other mobility challenges to pursue Disney travel on wheels!

First trip to WDW Oct 2003 Mary Poppins!

If you would like to contact him feel free to e-mail him at or look him up on Facebook and on Twitter.  Disney on Wheels itself can be accessed on Facebook here,  or you can join the Disney on Wheels Facebook Group.  The archives on WDWRadio can be accessed here.

First trip to WDW family with Mickey!


Tip of the Week:

This week’s tip concerns the use of Disney’s DAS (Disability Access Service) system. The DAS is used in conjunction with the FastPass system to reserve ride times for certain popular attractions. Unfortunately, theme park attractions do break down from time to time and it is particularly frustrating when they do so during your ride reservation window! What do you do when you are given a DAS return time only to discover that the attraction has broken down? This happened to our family twice on our recent WDW vacation, once at Epcot’s Test Track and once on Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.

Because Cast Members are unable to determine how long an attraction will be out of service, they are unable to provide DAS return times while the attraction is out of service. (This is because DAS return times are based upon current standby wait times.) We discovered that CMs were unable to delete or edit our DAS return times using their handheld devices. Instead, we were directed to choose another attraction and visit the FastPass return kiosk at the new attraction to make a brand-new DAS reservation. (FastPass holders would need to do the same thing; visit a FP kiosk and make changes.)

This is one more reason why it is important to prepare the person with cognitive, psychological or developmental disabilities for the possibility of ride breakdown and a change of plans!


Thanks and shout-outs on-air for supporters of Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter!

I will be a guest on the Big Fat Panda Show later this month! Check out this fantastic youtube channel by my friend, John Saccheri. (I’ll share the link when the show goes “live!”)

Thanks for listening,


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Disneyland with an Autism Service Dog and More! 070



Today’s feature chat is all about Autism service dogs. We’ve discussed service dogs at the Disney Parks and on the Disney Cruise Line in past episodes, but this conversation is specifically about Autism service dogs. So if you either have or are hoping to obtain an Autism service dog, you will definitely want to listen to this conversation!

My guests are Katie Wolfe, Placement and Training Director at Autism Service Dogs of America and Christine Johnson, who recently had an autism service dog from this organization placed in her home to assist her son. Christine tells us about the experience AND all about her family’s recent trip to Disneyland with their new service dog.

ASDA header


Our service dogs provide physical safety and an emotional anchor for children with autism. With their child tethered to a service dog, families are able to engage in activities as simple as going to the park or going out to eat as a family. When out in the community, a service dog increases safety and helps families feel secure. The service dog’s calming presence can minimize and often eliminate emotional outbursts, enabling the child to more fully participate in community and family activities. In many cases, the service dog accompanies the child to school, helping with transitions between activities and locations. Having a service dog helps increase opportunities for the child to develop social and language skills with others.

Visit their website at Autism Service Dogs of America.




Tip of the Week:

Our family will be heading down to Walt Disney World in about 3 weeks’ time and this just happens to be our first vacation with multiple iPhones and an iPad. Billy is no longer interested in the more portable handheld video games, unfortunately, so he will be bringing his iPad with him to the Parks to entertain and distract him when waiting in the various lines that we are oh-so-familiar with.

And what with the need for the My Disney Experience app and social media apps and perhaps some use of the voice recording app that I would like to use for the podcast, I anticipate that we are going to be using up the battery life on our respective devices rather quickly each day.

So one of the items that I will definitely be packing with us for our trip is the 4-port USB charging hub that I gave to my husband as a stocking stuffer this past Christmas. This particular one is by the Sharper Image.

This device fits into any wall outlet, and features one 2.1 amp USB port for fast-charging tablets and three 1 amp ports for most other USB-compatible devices.

I’m planning to use this in our resort room, of course, but it’s extremely light and has a 5’long cord, so I imagine that I’ll be able to use it in the parks as well and I’ll only need one cord for all 3 of our devices.



Some Walt Disney World news to share that will be of interest to guests traveling with a person who has a feeding tube and is making pre-paid dining reservations. As you may or may not know, many dining experiences at WDW require pre-payment of all meals at the time the reservation is made.  This applies to character buffets like Chef Mickey’s and the Crystal Palace, dinner shows like the Hoop-dee-doo Review, and family-style dining at restaurants like O’hana.

In the past, Disney Dining required that every person attending the meal be charged for the meal, including people who were not actually EATING the meal because they were tube fed. So, guests would have to appeal to the server at the time of the meal and request that the charge for the tube-fed person be removed. I’ve rarely heard of anyone being denied this request, but nevertheless, why should anyone have to spend time and energy doing this while on vacation?

So, official word given to Disney Travel agents is that Cast Members at the Disney Dining reservation system have been given the OK to employ a procedure to get around this policy.

How will it work?

First, Disney Dining will book the reservation for the total number of people in the party. They will book the adult or child with the feeding tube as an “infant” so that person will not be charged for a meal. Then Disney Dining will place internal notes on the reservation stating that one guest will not be eating due to special needs.

Please note that this is an internal workaround that applies to pre-paid dining reservations ONLY: it has nothing to do with the Disney Dining Plan travel packages which are attached to park tickets.

The advantage of this is new procedure is that it removes the awkward tableside negotiating regarding the check. A small change, yes, and one that you may argue has been a long time coming, but, it is a positive change nevertheless and one that I am happy to share with you.

* * * * *

We’ve been given a first look at this year’s Food Allergy and Celiac Convention that will be held at WDW on October 18, 2015.

The main event will be an Illuminations fireworks Dessert Party completely free of gluten and the top 8 food allergens.  The Dessert party will be held at the France Pavilion inside the World Showcase at the Epcot and theme park admission is required.  Visit Celebrate Awareness for information regarding ticket sales, travel packages, and more.

* * * * *

Registration is open for the 3rd annual Epilepsy Awareness Day at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA. This event is for people of all ages with epilepsy, their families and friends, and those whose lives are touched by epilepsy or who want to raise awareness for epilepsy.

This year the event will be comprised of a free Epilepsy Awareness and Education Expo held at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel on Wednesday, November 4th, followed by, “a day of excitement at Disneyland, paired with the gathering of 2500 guests, all wearing the event T-Shirts and waving their signs” at the Disneyland resort, Thursday, November 5th.  Please visit Epilepsy Awareness Day for more information.

Epilepsy Awareness Day Logo

* * * * *

The first-ever Special Mouse Podcast listener WDW meet-up is right around the corner! We’ll be gathering on Friday, May 22 at the Contempo Café, located on the 4th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, from 4 to 6 pm. Quick service refreshments will be available for purchase and I’ll be supplying some allergy-free treats from Erin McKenna’s Bakery for us to nibble on. If you’ll be in the area May 22nd, I hope to see you there.




And finally, thank you to all who supported the Kickstarter campaign to publish Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide! The project was fully funded on May 7th and if all goes as planned, the book will be available by the end of the year!

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Are you anxious about taking a child with Autism to Walt Disney World?

Trust me, I can help you!

Hmm. Well now, that’s a pretty big promise. Really, why should you trust me? You may not even know me!

Perhaps you are new to the Special Mouse Podcast. That’s okay; there are lots of people out there who are just discovering podcasts — online talk shows on-demand.

Perhaps you’ve seen Tweets and Facebook posts and Pinterest pins about a fundraising campaign to help somebody named Kathy publish a Walt Disney World travel guide for families with autism and you think to yourself,Anyone can self-publish a book these days. Sure, it sounds like a great idea, but she’ll make TONS of money once the book is published! Why is she asking people for money now, before the book is finished?”





I can see why you may be skeptical about pledging your hard-earned money, so I want to address your concerns if I can!

Here’s the basics:

  • I am writing a special needs travel guide that will help other families with autism.

  • Traditional publishers have rejected my queries, saying that the niche audience for this book will be too low for them to make a profit.

  • Self-publishing a book does cost money, especially if you are printing one that includes pictures, and if you want it professionally edited and formatted.

  • I want to give people the best quality book I can, and to offer it in both digital and print formats.

  • I don’t have the money to do this. (There, I said it!)


Kickstarter is basically a way for me to raise capital for the project up-front; backers will receive many Disney- and Autism-related “rewards” for their pledges (including the book itself). And, honestly, unless you are a New York Times bestselling author, writers do not make a lot of money from their books. I am not in this for the money! After all, I’ve been giving away free content and advice on the podcast for almost three years now!


5 cents please



So, I will say it once more: Trust me, I can help you! Or your friend, or your neighbor, or your family member who is planning a Walt Disney World vacation with a child on the Spectrum.

Still not sure? Well, you can always get to know me better by listening to a few episodes of the Special Mouse podcast. Or, you can listen to what a few of my listeners have to say, below. And you can always reach out to me directly via the message feature on the Kickstarter page. I urge you to read more about the book project there!

Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide

Here’s what people are saying….

Testimonial 1-h


Testimonial 2-f

Testimonial 3-e

Testimonial 4-g



Thank you again!


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Autism and the Disney Factor

Continuing with our Guest Post Series for Autism Awareness Month, here is the lovely Didi Marie from DisTherapy:

disney autism goofy muscles


Disney themes are many and universally appealing.  Mickey Mouse has entertained for 87 years with a pure, simple and honest heart.  Aurora, Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White have often been described as “maidens pure of heart.”  And who would break Sleeping Beauty’s spell?  A man of pure heart who would fall in love with her.  The autism community has for years told anecdotal stories of the allure and sometimes transformative nature of Disney movies and the Disney Parks.  For my son, it was the trips to these parks that first sparked language, attention and curiosity.  Early on, I had many the spirited conversations with the faculty and administrators at his special education center-based program; they feared that removing him from the structure and predictability of his services would be a dangerous loss of valuable time.  However, by the time he entered Kindergarten, they all but included our twice yearly Disney trips into his IEP!  His leaps ahead in attaining milestones were that remarkable and undeniable.  In my 20 years affiliation with autism schools, I have heard similar tales over and over again. What is it about the Disney magic that calls to these children and adults so uniquely??



Intellectually, one would think that Walt Disney World would cause complete sensory overload for an autism spectrum individual; the action is constant, the shows and fireworks are LOUD, the many park aromas greet Guests at Main Street, U.S.A., and can often be quite hot, humid and crowded.  How, then, do so many of these children and young adults overcome these obvious obstacles and come to be drawn in?


We have recently read of the Disney movie affinities of  New York Times Magazine journalist Ron Suskind’s son.  But the deep, almost magical connections with Disney Characters is something very familiar to the autism community.  Dare I say, Disney “breakthroughs” are far more common than have been documented.

I have my own take.  In the almost three decades that I worked as a physical therapist with both the autism and Downs communities, I have many, many times said that I have seen the face of God.  I will include my own son in that grouping; youngsters who are simple, honest and pure of heart and without the trappings of envy, competition, bullying or any other of the seven deadly sins.  My guess is that that the innocence and goodness that is at the soul of the Disney brand is what attracts these individuals the most.  Perhaps the fantasy and fable that is so exaggerated by Disney Characters is a non-threatening safe haven for them.  The storytelling that Walt Disney is most famous for is more powerful than we thought.  There’s magic in that “whole new world.”  And that trumps any Disney commercial I’ve ever seen…

Didi Marie


* * * * * * * * * *

Thank you, Didi! (My, your sons have done a bit of growing since these photos were taken!)

 This Guest Blogger series for Autism Awareness Month is brought to you by my upcoming book, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide. I would be most grateful if you would visit my project page on Kickstarter to learn more about the book and how you can pre-order your copy. Thanks!



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Magic Kingdom TR: First Visit for Child with Multiple Special Needs 069

Emmalee Disney 2


Today’s feature is a magical one-day mini trip report from Wayne Cordova, father of a 4-yr-old Emmalee, who has multiple special needs: cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hypotonia (muscle weakness) and developmental delay. Wayne enthusiastically shares his trip-planning strategy and how he and his wife, Tina, structured their one-day visit to the Magic Kingdom so as to ensure a successful experience for their daughter. Emmalee was able to access her must-do experiences (meeting Mickey Mouse and Anna & Elsa and riding it’s a small world) with help of the DAS and the stroller-as-a-wheelchair tag.


Emmalee Disney 5



Wayne believes that parents of children with multiple special needs have access to numerous planning resources that can help them ensure successful Walt Disney World trips for their families. He shares some of his resources here:

“Easy WDW was the first Crowd Calendar I looked at” –

“The first blog I read about the DAS card” –

“I then turned to podcasts for some info… and found WDW Radio episode 384” –

“Which led me to your podcast!”

Special Mouse #045 –

Special Mouse #050 –

(I’m thrilled that our podcast was able to help the Cordova family!) You can connect with Wayne and Tina here:

Tina’s Blog

Wayne’s Blog

Wayne’s Podcast


* * * * * * * * * *

Tip of the Week:

The DAS system is expected to go digital this week at the WDW resort and there will be a slight change in procedure. Our tip is to assist you during the transition period.

Here is how it will work:

1.) Visit Guest Relations in any park and request the DAS – The person in need of accommodation will need to have the entire party present.

2.) The Guest in need of the DAS accommodation will have a picture taken and his or her name will be entered into the system. (Up to now, the procedure is the same as before.)  Now the information will also be placed on the guest’s MagicBand.

3.) To use the DAS, the Guest will go to an attraction and have their MagicBand read via the Cast Member’s scanner. The photo and information of the Guest needing the DAS will come up and the CM will verify that it matches the guest wearing the MagicBand.

The scanner will then provide a return time.

4.) Upon return to the attraction, the Guest who had the DAS assigned to them MUST scan his MagicBand first, followed by the rest of the party. If not done in that order, it won’t register.

The picture and name of the Guest needing the DAS will then be verified by the CM before the group will be allowed to enter the attraction.


Naturally, there may be a few bugs in the system during the first week or two, so today’s tip of the week to help you through the transition comes to us from two Special Mouse listeners.  Maureen says,

“As a precaution so we don’t lose them, I’m going to take a screen shot of my FP+ times before I load any DAS return times into the MDE app. I know they are supposed to be in two different parts of the system, but they still have issues with FP+ messing up and I don’t want to take the risk.”

And this is echoed by Sue, who says,

“We’ve used the MDE for Fastpasses on 4 trips now and we always take screenshots.

You can go back to view them in the MDE app whenever you want, but sometimes the wifi in the parks is better than others.

So, rather than use up phone power trying to connect to wifi or use phone data time, we just do screenshots at the beginning of the day and each time we make a change.”

* * * * * * * * * *

MY sincere thanks to all of you who have pledged to support the publication of Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide and for tolerating the many, many messages about it that I’ve been sharing this month on social media. I promise that they will stop on May 7th when the campaign ends!

If you or someone you know will be traveling to WDW with a teenager or a child on the autism spectrum in the near future, pledging to the Kickstarter is a way for you to pre-order the book so that you have it on DAY ONE of its release.

There are lots of additional rewards for pledging and so I urge you to visit the page before the campaign ends on May 7th and thank you again for your friendship and your support!



~ Kathy

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How a Disney Horse Helped Diagnose My Daughter’s Autism

This is a guest blog submitted by Nancy Romps as part of our Autism Awareness Month and Disney celebration. Enjoy!

* * * * * * * * *

Four days into an extended-family trip to Walt Disney World, I was three hours into occupying a couple of square feet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But I wasn’t in line for a thrill ride, a Mickey ice cream bar or even the restroom; I was hanging out with a horse.


No, not a live horse, or even a costumed character. It was a life-size statue, complete with saddle and stirrups, outside one of the Studios’ many gift shops. And after four straight days of sensory overload and overstimulation, it was exactly where my then 6-year-old daughter, Colleen, needed to be.

For almost two years, our family had been searching for a diagnosis that would put a name to Colleen’s differences and help us navigate her needs. Mother’s instinct had whispered “autism” early in the process, but the professionals just couldn’t come to a consensus. One neuropsychologist actually congratulated us when her testing didn’t indicate autism, but my mood was far from celebratory. All I knew was we were no closer to understanding what was going on than when we began.

A resort known for loud noises and crowds certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice at that point in time, but because the trip was a gift from my in-laws I was determined to make the best of it. Overall Colleen enjoyed the sights and time with the extended family, but she wasn’t able to handle more than an hour or two in the parks before zoning out. Time and again, heading toward an exit with my daughter while the rest of the family sought out attractions and thrills, I decided that we were doing Disney “wrong” … until a horse told me otherwise.

We weren’t 100 yards past the entrance to the Studios when Colleen spotted the horse and begged for a closer look. She immediately hoisted herself onto the saddle and lost herself in imaginative play. For the first time on the trip, she seemed totally at ease and at peace. We had nowhere in particular to be and the spot was shady, so we hunkered down with our new equine friend. From atop the horse, Colleen contently watched the crowds, street performers and even the afternoon parade. Five years later, she remembers exactly how she felt on “her” horse that day: “Happy. Safe. Secure.”

After the trip, I immediately put in a call to the children’s hospital where Colleen had been undergoing evaluations and asked to be seen as soon as possible by a different neuropsychologist. This time I insisted that we dig deeper for answers. Among my list of atypical behaviors, the one that stopped the new neuropsychologist in her tracks was my report of our time with the horse at Disney. It was just one piece to our puzzle, but it was enough for the professionals to understand what they had missed the first time around.

Six months later, after a fresh set of testing, we had a definitive diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. And because the result was like winning my personal Super Bowl, this was my reaction: “We’re going to Disney World.”

Yes, we would return to Walt Disney World. But this time I was armed with more than sunscreen, comfortable shoes and cash: I would have information. Research brought me to resources about managing autism in the parks (in particular, the trip reports written by The Special Mouse’s own Kathy Kelly; support her Kickstarter book project here!). I knew that flexibility would be the key to our enjoyment, not how many attractions we rode or how many characters we met.

For that second family trip, I crafted comfortable mouse ears for Colleen out of felt and a soft black headband. And because of this and subsequent visits to the World, I have learned that it makes perfect sense to ride Spaceship Earth on repeat on cool summer nights. And that you can spend happy hours watching lizards scamper around the landscaping, or crashing a courtyard wedding from the safety of your hotel’s balcony.

And, above all, we now know that even after you learn to enjoy the sights and attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll always find time to visit an old friend.


Colleen at age 7, one year after first meeting “her” horse at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

* * * * * * * *

Thank you for your post, Nancy!

This blog series is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: a Special Needs Guide. Please visit our page on Kickstarter to support it’s publication — thanks!

~ Kathy

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Teen with Autism Channels his Inner Walt Disney to Help Himself and Others – 068


My featured guest is Max Miller, 13-year-old artist and author of Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism, and founder of the Blue Ribbon Arts Initiative.

Max wrote his first book, Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism as a way of sharing what autism was like through his perspective. Non-verbal until the age of six, Max struggled with language and used art to express himself. By the age of 10, he learned how to read and write. At 12, he published his first book as he wanted to make a difference for other children, especially for those who could not speak. His intention is to help create compassion, awareness and understanding for children affected by autism.

Max wanted to take his advocacy further and he created Blue Ribbon Arts Initiative. A portion of his royalties benefit his foundation. Max said, “Art saved him,” and he wants to share the gift of art with other children. He is doing so by providing low-income children with Autism Spectrum Disorder “Art Start Kits” to help them get started with their creations and by hosting an art show to celebrate the work of kids on the autism spectrum. You can email Max via his mom at

Max, his mother and I discuss autism, art, his book and something that he shares in common with Walt Disney! His foundation’s first art show, “Youth Artists on the Spectrum: A Celebration of Neurodiversity,” which will run from April 2-25, 2015 on limited days and hours. Friday and Saturday from 1-4 and by appointment.  Call 40 West Arts 303-275-3430 or Blue Ribbon 720-999-6130 to set an appointment time.

Hello, My Name

Max’s book is available on Amazon



Disney has announced they will roll out Allergy-Friendly Menus to around 120 restaurants. The menus will be available at both counter service and table service locations throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland parks and resorts and will include offerings at the Disney water parks and Downtown Disney restaurants as well.

You can read more about it on the Disney Food Blog.


The Special Mouse Community will be having its first Disney Parks meet-up next month at Walt Disney World! We’re meeting at the Contemporary Resort’s Contempo Café on Friday, May 22 from 4 to 6 PM. Yes, this is the same day as the Disney Side 24-hour event at the Magic Kingdom! So, if you’ll be up before dawn to attend that event and you find yourself starting to drag just a little in the late afternoon, head on over to the Contemporary and hang out with us in the air-conditioning for a while. Hope to see you there!

Many thanks to all of you who have pledged to support the publication of Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter! The campaign ends on May 7th.


~ Kathy

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Walt Disney World with Autism: What’s a Kickstarter, Anyway?

Please read!

Today is National High Five Day (who knew?)

After a bit of research I discovered that National High Five Day was started in 2002 at the University of Virginia. A group of students organized a fundraiser, giving out high-fives and lemonade. The idea spread and over the years peoples of all ages and backgrounds have celebrated National High Five Day every third Thursday in April by giving high-fives all day to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Well, this is perfect timing! The Kickstarter campaign to help publish Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide is in full swing: one week down, three weeks to go! I’m so very grateful to everyone who has already pledged their support. HIGH FIVE!

It's National High Five Day! (1)

I have to admit, however, that I’m feeling a myriad of emotions today. Excitement, apprehension, gratitude and anxiety top the list. Apprehension? Anxiety? Yes! Running a crowdfunding campaign can be rather stressful!

It occurs to me that some of my listeners, readers, friends, supporters — “you guys” — may not be familiar with crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular. (I get the impression that a lot of people are clicking on the Kickstarter link expecting to purchase the book, get confused and just leave.) So, here’s a quick little tutorial from their website:

Kickstarter 101

What are the basics?

A project is a finite work with a clear goal that you’d like to bring to life. Think albums, books, or films.

The funding goal is the amount of money that a creator needs to complete their project.

Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. No one will be charged for a pledge towards a project unless it reaches its funding goal. This way, creators always have the budget they scoped out before moving forward.

A creator is the person or team behind the project idea, working to bring it to life.

Backers are folks who pledge money to join creators in bringing projects to life.

Rewards are a creator’s chance to share a piece of their project with their backer community. Typically, these are one-of-a-kind experiences, limited editions, or copies of the creative work being produced. (The book!)

How does Kickstarter work?

Every project creator sets their project’s funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Funding is all or nothing. That’s where the stress comes in!

I am so very committed to this book. There are hundreds, if not thousands of families out there who want to share in the magic of Walt Disney World but are afraid that their children with autism will not be able to tolerate the experience. I know that I can help them; I just don’t have the money to publish my book.

One week down, three weeks to go.

Please help me to help you! Pledge to back this book project today! Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide



Why Worry

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More Autism Awareness: Using Disney’s Stroller-as-a-Wheelchair Tag



We continue our month-long celebration of autism awareness and Disney with a guest post from Melissa at the Autism Mommy Avenger Blog!

Riding Along at Disney

When it comes to taking vacations with a child with Autism, it can be a little stressful to think about how the kid will be with crowds, lines and long waits. This was definitely a worry of ours before we took our son to Disney last December. Billy has meltdowns when he is in large crowds, when not moving for a bit, and when he is over stimulated by something. We knew that we would have moments of waiting on a line, or fighting a big crowd when at Disney and were worried he may have a complete meltdown. When we are out somewhere at home, we have his stroller with us in stores. He is always calm when he sits in his own stroller. We made sure when we flew to FL to take his stroller since he was comfortable with it.

When we arrived to Disney we asked for the DAS card for our son, and also asked for the sticker for our stroller. This sticker allows you to use your stroller as a wheelchair. So, my son would be able to just stay in the stroller on lines when we would have a bit of a wait, or when there were a lot of people around…


To read more, please visit Mommy Adventure Blog

Thank you, Melissa!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Autism Awareness Month Blog Celebration is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter. Please support the publication of this book, today! (Ends 5/7/15)



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