The entire trip was an adventure. We took the auto train last Friday (June 20th) and arrived in Orlando on the morning of June 21st. We got a resort with 2 bedrooms and a kitchen and decided to bring our cars and food to save on car rental charges and eating out every day. The 4 kids did great. The train left at 4pm and the kids watched movies, played video games. We had dinner together in the dinner train car. They were very well behaved.We arrived the next morning, got our cars and went to the resort. We had decided not to go to the parks either Saturday or Sunday and spend time at the pool instead. Jonathan and Vanessa loved the pool. They spent a large portion with Christian and Nico Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, Jonathan didn’t want to go to the pool. Vanessa went with Daddy and Jonathan stayed with me while I got ready. I gave him breakfast thinking that he needed food. But he still didn’t want to go. I grabbed his bathing suit and headed to the pool with him anyway. I told him he could play his Leapster and didn’t have to go in and he was okay with that. On our way to the pool I asked Jonathan why he didn’t want to go back and he told me that it was because the water is too high and he didn’t like it that he couldn’t touch the floor. When we got to the pool, he noticed that Vanessa had “brasitos” (arm floats) and he decided he wanted to try it. He loved it and spent hours at the pool that day with the kids. In the afternoon, we went to Downtown Disney for fun and ice cream.
The first park we went to was Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We got up early and made it to the entrance by 9:30am. It was hot and sunny. Disney has services for kids with special needs and people with other disabilities. I had researched it a few months back. I went to the Guest Services desk with a letter from the neurologist to explain that Jonathan has autism and they gave me a pass that allowed us to by-pass some of the very long lines. That was helpful because Jonathan still has trouble coping with certain things like long lines, heat and really hates the sun. The park was very crowded but Jonathan had no issues with that.
When we entered the park, Nico and Christian ran to get their picture and autograph taken with several Disney characters. When Jonathan asked Christian what he was doing and Christian told him about the autograph book, Jonathan immediately told me that he wanted an autograph book too. So Daddy went to buy an autograph book and pen for both Jonathan and Vanessa and we spent about an hour getting autographs and pictures. That was awesome. He was very excited and knew all the characters.By 10:30am, Jonathan was very annoyed with the sun and we decided to go to rides. The first place we went to was the Haunted House. We waited in a long line because we didn’t really know how to use the special pass Guest Services had given me. Jonathan was moving a lot, in circles, from left to right. He hated the sun and asked for a shadow. When we made it in, he absolutely loved the ride. He wanted to do it again, but the park is so big we told him next time. The next ride, I decided to figure out how to use the pass. It would allow the 8 of us to go through the handicap entrance. I am glad that we got that pass, because it made a world of difference. We went to 3 worlds (there are 6 worlds I believe) and made almost all the rides with little wait time. Jonathan enjoyed the park tremendously. We left the park at midnight. Jonathan did not complain about being tired, not even once. He was rigid about food and we needed to feed him when he said he was hungry. And when he was really hot, we gave him ice cream and he was happy. He loved the parade. We had taken Jonathan to Disney twice before, but he didn’t remember. He never cared about the characters the way he did this time. He never cared about the parades. He never cared much about the rides (would suck his thumb and go into his own world). This time, he loved the park.
Water Park – Typhoon Lagoon
Since Monday was so hot, we decided to go to a water park on Tuesday. It was a very VERY fun day. Jonathan loved it. He got on a couple of slides where he had to get on a small raft by himself and totally loved it. As long as he was on that, he was not scared. But he didn’t do the slides without raft. I am going to take him to swimming lessons (both Jonathan and Vanessa) because Vanessa was scared too. We closed that park too at 8pm.
On Wednesday, we decided to go to Sea World. I had been when I was 8 years old and I didn’t really know the park or what to expect. It was hard to get into it at first because we soon realized it was a park of shows and we needed to plan our day around the schedule. Jonathan liked watching the dolphins and orca whales. And he liked a sea lion show very much. It rained on us for about 1 hour with strong thunder and lightning, and he was calmed and not scared. He was annoyed about getting wet (even though he had a poncho on), but was not scared about the noise. He really wanted to get on a tower and the others wanted to do something else. He was soooo excited to go on that tower. It was great to watch him. Again, we stayed until they closed the park and we watched the fireworks. Jonathan loved them.
On Thursday, we stayed at the resort in the morning (pool) and then took the kids to Disney Quest because we knew it was going to rain again like Wednesday. And I am glad we did because it rained for almost 4 hours. Disney Quest is a building with 5 floor of virtual reality games and an arts section. Jonathan liked most games. We spent almost 7 hours there (and I lost my small digital camera J - I was hoping someone would turn it in, but no one did. I even checked today). It was too much for Vanessa, but Jonathan enjoyed it. There were a couple of games that scared him. We went to dinner from there and made it back to the vacation house (as the kids called it) late that evening.
Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure
On Friday, we decided to go to Universal. At first, we wanted to go to both parks, but since we had made it in so late on Thursday, we let the kids sleep in and didn’t make it to the park until noon. At that time, we decided just to stay in that park. It was incredibly crowded and the sun was strong again. I went to Guest Services and they gave me similar passes as Disney so we could by-pass some of the long lines. That again made the experience very enjoyable for Jonathan as we were able to get on all the rides. Except for roller coasters and rides with steep drops, Jonathan got on everything else. Vanessa however got on all the rides her height would allow her. She loves roller coasters. We didn’t push Jonathan do anything he didn’t want to do because he was having such a fun time, it was not worth forcing him. I know that if he gets on those rides, he enjoys them. It is just getting him on them that is tricky.That evening we went to eat dinner at Bubba Gump (restaurant from Forrest Gump's movie) and Jonathan ordered popcorn shrimp. I was concerned because he had never tried shrimp before and he just wanted it because of the word “popcorn”. But to my surprise, he ate the entire plate. Amazing.
It was a great vacation. Jonathan was always part of the group, hardly ever on his own. Enjoyed everything, never complained about anything other than the sun being too shiny and being hungry at times. We did not stress about him for the first time in years. It was great!
Spending an entire week with Vanessa, Nico and Christian was great. I can more clearly see Jonathan’s strengths and weaknesses. It is helpful to compare with neurotypical kids, so that I can better concentrate on the areas that he still has issues.
- Mild hyperactivity – cannot stop moving, but it is not obnoxious. I keep telling him to stop moving. He does for 2 seconds and starts again. If I grab him so he doesn’t move, he stops but gets desperate and takes my arms off him so he can move
- Eye contact - still has a hard time fully locking eye contact when I ask him to look me in the eyes. However, he has pretty good eye contact when he initiates it
- Expressive language – sometimes doesn’t make sense or cannot construct large/complex sentences on the spot. But he has become quite verbal, so he tries hard to explain himself if we don't understand what he means
- Appropriate playing – still not interested in playing with toys other than electronic toys. Not interested in building complex pretend games with toys on his own. He can do it for a few minutes (playing with a couple of tiny figures and making them talk to each other) and can play some pretend games with Vanessa but cannot build complex scenarios.
- Tip toe walking – he is doing it again
- Getting too close to people’s faces – when he is playing with kids or adults, he tends to get too close to their faces
- Voice volume and intonation – when he speaks he still uses a very loud voice and his intonation, although better, is still flat
- Humming - he still does it
- Mild OCD - with time lately. He wears a wrist watch so he knows what time it is at all times