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Autism Archives - Special Mouse - Unofficial Disney Parks and Travel for Your Special Needs Special Mouse – Unofficial Disney Parks and Travel for Your Special Needs
Special Mouse – Unofficial Disney Parks and Travel for Your Special Needs

Special Mouse Podcast

Posts Tagged 'Autism'

The Lion King on Broadway with The Autism Theatre Initiative! 087




On today’s episode we’re taking a virtual trip to NYC’s “great white way” via a Broadway theater trip report!  I recently spoke with Melissa Morgenlander, a native New Yorker and self-described “musical theater geek,” who gathered up enough courage to take her 8 year-old son, Quentin, to a performance of Disney’s The Lion King, an experience that brought her to tears – but in a very good way.

Before you listen to Melissa and Quentin’s story, however, I need to tell you the story of the Autism Theatre Initiative, which made this amazing mother-son experience possible.

The Autism Theatre Initiative is one of the many accessibility programs developed through TDF, the Theatre Development Fund. TDF is a non-profit service organization for the performing arts.

TDF launched the Autism Theatre Initiative with the goal of making theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum, as well as their families. Fittingly enough, the first autism-friendly performance of a Broadway show was Disney’s The Lion King on Oct. 2, 2011, and the program has grown steadily since that time.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, what, exactly, makes a theatre performance “autism-friendly?” Well, it’s all about taking things easy on the senses:

  • The house lights are never completely turned off; they are left dimmed so that the audience will be more comfortable.
  • Loud noises are kept to a minimum, and if there are going to be loud sounds, ushers alert the audience with light sticks on the side.
  • Quiet areas are set up in the lobby and at various levels of the theater, stocked with quiet toys, bean bag chairs, and books.
  • Volunteers are on hand to help audience members who might have to leave mid-show to take a break. They also hand out fidget toys to keep wandering hands busy or calm.
  • A printable social story about going to the theater is available online prior to the show, as well as a video to prepare guests for the experience before they arrive.

Melissa blogs about her adventures with autism, media and technology at The IQ Journals and I highly recommend that you check it out!

Autism Theatre Initiative

Guide for Attending the Autism-Friendly Performance of The Lion King

Upcoming ATI’s Broadway Shows for the 2015-2016 Season

Wicked Feb. 7, 2016 at 1pm

Aladdin March 6, 2016 at 1pm

(Additional Shows May Be Announced Soon.)

Here is a link to the Facebook Post by Kelvin Moon Loh that we mentioned in the show.


Remember to stop by and click on the red “Speak Pipe” tab located on either the blog or podcast page. Be a part of our annual tradition as members of the Special Mouse listening community record a message for our Thanksgiving episode! I can’t wait to listen! And, as a bonus, everyone who leaves a message will be entered into a drawing to win a set of fun Disney character refrigerator magnets, handmade by listener Kerry Kingdon!

Kerry Magnets

Thanks for listening,


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October Chit-Chat – 086



I’m introducing a new, monthly show format today. It’s called, “Chit-Chat, Yick-Yack and Flim-Flam” (A Country Bear Jamboree reference!)

Howdy folks. Welcome to the one and only original Country Bear Jamboree, featuring a bit of Americana, our musical heritage of the past. But enough of this chit chat, yick yack, and flim flam. Just refrain from hibernating, and we’ll all enjoy the show…because we got a lot to give. – Henry





I discuss a mixed bag of topics and some listener emails regarding Disney DAS Anxiety, Gender-Neutral Disney Halloween Costumes, A Petition to provide mechanical lifts in the Disney Parks, Autism-Friendly Theater, The Gingerbread Fun Run 5K to benefit Give Kids The World Village, Vegan Soft-Serve at Erin McKenna’s Bakery and More!

Come again.
Come again.
The welcome mat is always out,
‘Cause seeing you is fun.



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Autism on the Seas and the Disney Cruise Line! 085


Today’s guest is Dr. Rachel Potter from Autism on the Seas!

Dr. Potter is co-chair of the volunteer Advisory Team for Autism on the Seas. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and currently serves as Director of the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Mary Baldwin College where she teaches graduate courses in special education, autism spectrum disorders, and applied behavior analysis.

Dr. Rachel Potter

Dr. Rachel Potter

She is a parent of two children, one of whom has autism.  She has cruised with Autism on the Seas as both a client (with her family) and as a Group Leader and she is here to chat with me about this wonderful organization and how it supports the autism community. Dr. Potter describes how she became involved with Autism on the Seas, first as a client family and later as a Group Leader on Autism on the Seas Cruises (including several on the Disney Cruise Line.)



Autism of the Seas provides a number of different services to special needs families:

  • Cruises with Staff – We discuss the various kinds of supports they provide in kids clubs and during activities while on the cruise. Another big question is toileting issues, and staff ARE able to assist with toileting.  We also discuss the special boarding, mustering and debarking procedures available for clients with sensory issues who are supported by Autism on the Seas.
  • Cruises without Staff
  • Cruise Assistance Package
  • Resort Vacations with Staff –  Autism on the Seas staff are available to assist families at Walt Disney World!




Please visit the Autism on the Seas website for more information. You may reach out to Dr. Potter directly via email. 

Thanks for listening!




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Walt Disney Family Museum & The D23 Expo with Autism – 083

Margalit Francus from Autistic Globetrotting is today’s guest. We discuss two recent travel experiences she enjoyed with her young adult son who has HFA (high functioning autism) and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

First, we talk about their recent visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California. The museum, co-founded by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller and his grandson, Walter E. D. Miller, is owned and operated by the Walt Disney Family Foundation. Margalit gives us a tour of the various exhibits, noting which ones her son enjoyed the most. She notes that the Walt Disney Family Museum is more appropriate for teens and adults who are big Disney fans, since there aren’t many interactive exhibits.



photo courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum


The Walt Disney Family Museum frequently offers special events for children with autism, so check the events schedule regularly! Something that I learned when I visited the museum website is that they have their own Podcast! I will definitely be checking THAT out.

Next, Margalit tells us about their recent visit to the 2015 Disney D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. This experience turned out to be much more challenging for her son due to the excitement of the event and her son’s obsessions with Disney. Margalit describes how helpful the event staff was during her son’s behavior meltdowns. Would she take her son to the fan event again? The answer is, “yes,” but there are some things that she would do differently the next time. (This was a last-minute trip and planning was not optimal.)

First, she would select a hotel that was closer to the convention center. This would be more convenient when a break from the excitement would be helpful. Second, she would bring along another adult to help manage the difficult moments. Lastly, she would visit the D23Expo during the less crowded days (Friday and Sunday).



Posing with some familiar friends at the D23 Expo


Please visit to read Margalit’s posts about these two Disney destinations!

Taking Kids to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco 

Disney’s D23 Conference: Helpful Tips for Attending

Margalit shares her family’s travel experiences around the world on her YouTube channel — check it out!

Thanks for listening!



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Is Disney’s DAS “fair?” (Part One) – 080


The Magic is for Everyone!

Guest Maureen Deal from joins Kathy to discuss whether or not Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS) accommodation is “fair” and, if so, to whom?

We have discussed the change in Disney’s system of accommodation for guests with disabilities from the GAC to the DAS at length in previous episodes. Today we begin a dialogue, not about the effectiveness of the current system, but rather whether or not the current system is fair. This is in response to recent posts on social media from travel agents specializing in Disney vacation-planning who expressed frustration regarding some of their clients’ response to the current system. Unlike the previous system of accommodation, the DAS does not provide accellerated access to attractions for guests with disabilities.

It should be noted that Maureen and I are speaking as parents of children on the severe end of the Autism Spectrum. Naturally, this has affected our own experiences and our personal opinions. Opinions of Special Mouse listeners regarding this question were requested and permission to share was granted.

Some points covered in this episode are:

Accommodations for Disney Park guests with special needs are now provided based upon specific criteria and many people “fall through the cracks.” Guests with challenges related to mobility/endurance are advised to rent a wheelchair or scooter if they do not already have one and the alternate entrance accommodation is provided if a queue is not wheelchair-accessible. Guests who find it difficult to wait in a standard queue environment due to cognitive/sensory issues are offered the DAS, which provides not accellerated access, but a “virtual wait” (Details regarding services for guests with disabilities can be found on Disney’s official website.)


What is “fair?” Is “fair” the same as “equal?”

Equal vs Fair


Was the DAS created to be fair for Disney park guests with disabilities or fair for “all of our guests?” (Meaning, the guests who do not require accommodations for disabilities.)

We discuss society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities. Has the GAC/DAS issue fostered an “us against them” mentality between typical guests and guests with disabilities and their families? Do guests with disabilities feel “entitlement?” Are guests without disabilities insensitive to the needs of others? Is accommodating the needs of the disabled fine and dandy UNTIL it is perceived to impact the non-disabled guest experience?

Does one size fit all when it comes to accommodations for special needs? (DAS or Mobility Device.) After all, that one glass slipper didn’t fit every foot!

Special Accommodations for Specific Circumstances

DAS, with its virtual wait, will accommodate many of our Guests with disabilities. We recognize, however, that our Guests with disabilities have varying needs, and we will continue to work individually with our Guests to provide assistance. In unique situations, our Guest Relations staff will discuss special accommodations for persons who are concerned DAS doesn’t meet their needs (e.g., those whose disability limits the duration of their visit to the park or limits their choice of attractions).

Are guests’ individual needs taken into account when additional accommodations are requested as promised by Disney in October of 2013? Or is additional accommodation “one-size-fits-all” as well? (Individual attraction re-admission pass (essentially one additional FastPass) that must be requested daily and on an individual basis.)


Does anxiety and stress related to the DAS system (huge change for a population that finds change extremely difficult, anxiety related to fear of not being granted the DAS or that the DAS will not meet a family member’s needs, inconsistency among Disney Cast Members in provision of DAS accommodation, etc.) have a negative effect on the special-needs family’s vacation experience?

We reference Special Mouse Episode 50: Disney DAS Card Survey Results to note that about half of respondents said the DAS accommodation met their family’s needs while the other half said it did not. Again, does one size fit all in this situation?

Listener comments included in this episode:

Bruce Sherman: Those with mobility issues like myself, the answer to our issue is not a wheelchair. Too many queues can only handle a wheelchair, especially in the Magic Kingdom. So to say, hey you dont need DAS, use a wheelchair, is telling us, no, you cant ride this attraction.

Helen Thomas: Now we have used DAS I can see how to some it will work well and to others it may not solve the issues they have. Last time we were here we had the Guest Assistance Card. We used it like the DAS anyway as we had no issue with coming back after the standby time. We did see some people abusing the system and this did rankle with us as the pass was an assistance tool, not so you can jump queues. The DAS is working well for us and making our trip easier and less stressful and it fits in with our reasons we need it, but I can imagine that it will not work for some people with sensory issues or who have a particular ride that they will only go on, and struggle with having to wait. I don’t think you can please all the people all of the time plus sadly, there are people out there who will abuse things and ruin them for the rest.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is all food for thought; we will continue with part two of our discussion next week.

Thanks for listening,



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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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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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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

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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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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!

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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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Celebrating Autism Awareness with Jackie Psarianos from The Autistic World of Disney

Our celebration of Autism Awareness Month and Disney continues with this Guest Post from Jackie Psarianos:

Andrew P.

My son is primarily non-verbal. It is difficult engaging him in any conversation. He does not like to be touched or hugged.

Andrew is fifteen with a developmental age of three. He loves the movie Toy Story and the Disney characters Buzz Lightyear and Woody. It is for that reason we love Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ attraction ‘Toy Story Mania’.

Every time we vacation at any of the Disney Parks we see great social and developmental improvements. Andrew comes into his own and into our world many times during those vacations. That is what keeps us coming back time and time again, coupled with Cast Members anticipating our needs, makes for a positive and memorable experience.

One visit to Toy Story Mania stands out in my mind, Andrew was thirteen at the time and up until then I had never heard any terms of endearment or had any hugs from him.

We were in the attraction vehicle and Andrew’s aim at the targets was incredible, he was pointing and shooting at all the dishes on one screen, breaking them one after the other and becoming increasingly engaged by the minute. His excitement and enthusiasm kept my attention as I had not seen anything like this ever! My mind was reeling because of this joint attention, his hand eye coordination and best of all, his more than appropriate responses to his achievements.

Andrew that day scored 89,000 points, a personal best! I couldn’t wait to get out and tell my husband about all of this.

What a huge stride Andrew took that day, it was massive and I was so excited.

Upon exiting the attraction, Andrew turned to me and said, “Mummy, give me a kiss!”

I was floored! Not only did I give him a kiss, but I got a great big hug out of him for the first time in his thirteen years. For the very first time!

Imagine my delight. It’s a moment I will never ever forget and will hold close to my heart always.

Andrew came back to us if even for a few minutes.

I am so grateful for that special, special moment.


Thank you for sharing, Jackie!

This blog series is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter.

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Autism Awareness Month Continues with Guest Tricia Ballad – 067


We continue our month-long celebration of Autism Awareness with today’s feature. I’m chatting with Tricia Ballad, a published fiction author, Disney fan and Autism Mom. We’re talking about her family’s recent trip to Walt Disney World and she introduces me to a workshop she’s created for parents of children recently diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder and other Autism-related diagnoses.

The Autism Parents’ Starter Kit includes a series of video discussions on parenting a child with autism, printable resources, and an interactive discussion area where parents can ask questions and connect with other parents. It will be available April 15 on

Tricia has generously offered a 50% discount to the Autism Parents’ Starter Kit for Special Mouse listeners! You can access it HERE.


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. I would love to meet you in real life!


Thanks to all of you who have supported the Kickstarter crowdfunding project I’m running, with either a pledge or a share on social media or in many cases, both. This project is to help publish my upcoming book, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide! A book which, by the way, I am really surprised hasn’t been written by anyone yet, considering that there are soooo many families with kids on the Autism Spectrum that love WDW or are anxious about visiting WDW — or both!

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You know, I never really talk about it here on the show, but it does cost a bit of money to produce and deliver a podcast like this one – which I love doing and will always provide to listeners free of charge – but, it doesn’t leave me with a lot of extra money lying around to pay for the expenses involved in self-publishing a book!  There’s stuff like professional editing, and the cover art (which, by the way, was created by the very talented Mr. Danny Lawless from the Magic Our Way podcast – shout out to Danny!) and the book will need to be formatted for print and indexed, etc. So, it actually costs several thousand dollars to do this thing!

The wonderful thing about pledging to help with Kickstarter is that instead of just sending me, Kathy Kelly, a check for 10 or 20 or 50 dollars, you will earn some pretty cool rewards for backing the book!

There’s everything from Safety ID Stickers for Kids, created by an autism mom, to sensory-friendly kids costumes from Mom Approved Costumes, to exclusive sneak-peek chapters of the book that I’ll send to your inbox, to personal autism theme park coaching with me via Skype… there are just too many goodies to mention here.

And, of course, you can pre-order a copy of the book itself, which is the main “reward.”

So please, I urge you to visit and make a pledge to Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide today. The campaign will end May 7th and here’s the big thing – for those of you who aren’t familiar with Kickstarter.

If I do not raise the full amount that I’m seeking, the campaign fails and I get nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No one’s credit card gets charged and, frankly, it’s going to take a whole lot longer for me to get the book published and into your hands. If the Kickstarter is a success, you should be able to get it by November/December of this year.

I’ve also created a Facebook page for the book called, naturally, Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide.

Which, by the way, a lot of people have told me that it’s been much easier for them to log into for the first time using their Facebook account, especially if they are using a mobile device – so there’s a tip for you.

Thank you so, so very much!

Tip of the Week:

If you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel you can order waterproof mattress covers for your hotel bed. When you travel with someone, adult or child, who has issues with urinary incontinence or nighttime bed-wetting, it can be a great source of stress.

For many years my son with autism wet his bed at lease 3-4 times per week and even if he was wearing pull-ups they would often leak. I was always worried about this happening when we were staying at a hotel.

Instead of trying to pack a waterproof bed pad in your luggage, you can order one ahead of time. Definitely mention this to your Disney Travel Agent or, if you’re making your own travel arrangements, contact Walt Disney Resort Special Reservations at 407-939-7807, or  Disneyland Resort Special Reservations at 714-520-5045.

Thanks for listening,


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Special Mouse Celebrates Autism Awareness with: Michelle Young from The Disney Dream Girls

Happy April! Happy Autism Awareness Month!

I’ve gathered some of my Disney-loving friends to share guest posts about Autism Awareness and Disney, which I’ll be sharing throughout the month of April.


This post was submitted by Michelle Young, co-host of The Disney Dream Girls podcast.

Autism Awareness

When my son, Ciarán, was diagnosed (officially), it was a kind of relief to have a label to describe his issues and in turn this then enabled him to get the support he needed.

Many people make the assumption that because he has this label he is in a special school or he has a special talent, like Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond in Rain Man. This is miles away from the truth. He is in mainstream school; he is in the top 10% of his class – bright but not overtly gifted. His difficulties are mainly with interaction with others, having unusual reactions to noises, crowds, pain and food amongst others. One trait he does have is obsessions! As a baby, it was Thomas the Tank Engine, now it is Doctor Who.

He is now aged 15, and his school has harnessed his drawing talents to create a poster for autism awareness across the school, which I would like to share with you.




Ciarán has inherited my Disney obsession, despite living in the UK; together we have been fortunate to visit both US Disney parks. Thanks to the accommodations we were able to arrange, he was able to access everything and despite the occasional meltdown, we had an amazing time.

I would like to thank Kathy for giving me the opportunity to support Autism Awareness. When I’m not enthusing about Disney, I can be found on my podcast, The Disney Dream Girls where we enthuse about the food, attractions and fun to be had in the Disney theme parks.

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Thank you, Michelle! You can listen to a recent podcast episode with Michelle and Ciaran here > Disneyland Trip Report with Aspergers and ADHD

This blog series is brought to you by Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide on Kickstarter.

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