The first time I went to a real amusement park was kind of disappointing. I was five years old. I had been to the fair before, but I was aware from commercials (and word of mouth) that there were better options out there. I couldn’t wait to explore those options. The amusement park of choice where I grew up was Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. It was about three hours away, and during the summer months our TV seemed to pour out commercials for thrill rides such as The Gemini and The Blue Streak in a constant stream.
I needed to be on those rides.
Being so young (and short) I would have to settle with the Gemini Jr. I was unable to experience most of the rides I had heard about, and worse- I was forced to watch my two older siblings have the fun I was longing for.
A few years later I was finally allowed to enjoy the park as it was intended. There were many trips to Cedar Point in my younger years. By then I could say I survived The Demon Drop; a new ride in 1983, which even though no one was ever actually killed, all of us had heard otherwise. It’s the whole reason we rode it, I think. But Cedar Point is made for roller coaster lovers. We went to Cedar Point for our eighth grade class trip the year The Magnum debuted as the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the world. I remember bragging that I only had to wait an hour.
I haven’t been to Cedar Point in eighteen years. When I think about going now, I think about the bad parts; the heat, crowds, long lines, and exhaustion. I think about that simulation I recently watched of their Shoot the Rapids ride malfunctioning. That’s not a thrill I want to pay for.
But now that Teghan is getting bigger, I cannot deny the fact that amusement park rides seem right up her alley. She craves more sensory stimulation, and she is a natural thrill-seeker. So, with this in mind we recently took her to the fair. It seemed like a good starting point.
We went on “Dollar Day” when all the rides were only a dollar. Upon arrival, we had no waiting and found good parking. In fact, we experienced little waiting at all for anything. When we left, even the overflow parking was filled, and the lines of cars waiting to get in went for miles in each direction. So, our timing was amazing.
We looked for rides that she was big enough to go on and would allow us to ride with her. This included the Ferris wheel, a kiddie scrambler, and a junior roller coaster. For a long time she just looked around with a serious look on her face as she watched what was happening to all the people around her. It must have seemed strange, indeed.
We started with the Ferris wheel. The brief wait was a little dramatic at times; she doesn’t stand in one place. Ever. And why on earth would we stop walking and just stand in this one spot? She seemed pleased with the actual ride, but still quite perplexed as she surveyed the park from this higher vantage point. It wasn’t much of a ride. It moved slowly, if at all. The operators never stopped putting new people on the ride long enough to complete a full turn.
The junior roller coaster was much better. We waited in line only a few minutes, and watching the ride made her lose her mind with excitement. For Teghan this means lots of squeals and tapping on the fence (with an occasional fall to the ground because things weren’t happening immediately). And, as we had hoped, the experience was a success. She laughed the whole time, and wanted to go again.
But we didn’t last too long at the fair. Teghan became obsessed with the one ride, and the line kept getting longer. We used french fries as an escape route. I think when Teghan is taller we may attempt something a little more serious, but I wonder how it will go.
I have been seeing a huge response from the autism community over Disney eliminating their Guest Assistance Card. It will have a new program similar to other parks. I have no opinion on the matter since I am too inexperienced to know what I will be missing. The idea of something similar to their Fastpass would probably be enough for us, especially since you get this new Disabled Assistance System pass from a kiosk away from the actual ride. I now know that if Teghan has to walk away from a ride she wants to ride without going on it, there will be a problem.
But reading comments on a related article, it is clear that a lot of people have no clue why waiting in lines is a problem for children with autism. One commenter was angry that he has to stand in line while an autism family gets to walk around during their wait. He went so far as to say that bringing a child with a disability is the best way to experience the park, and that it was unfair to everyone else without a disability.
I’m not sure how qualified this man is in determining the best way to experience Disney. A previous commenter who had a child with autism was upset because their daughter would only ride “It’s a Small World” and now they wouldn’t be able to ride the same ride consecutively. They rode it twenty-seven times on their last visit. They are clearly living the Disney dream while others are forced to watch from the sidelines. Assuming your sideline is somewhere near “It’s a Small World” of course.
I also enjoyed the comments about how a child with autism needs to be taught how to wait in line like other children, or the obvious conclusion that many came to- that if your child has sensory or waiting issues, they don’t belong there in the first place.
Mixed in were comments from parents attempting to explain how meltdowns work, that their children didn’t understand the concept of waiting in a line, how in love with Disney their child was, and that their kids also loved the rides. They were not just defending the validity of their child’s disability, but their child’s right to even set foot at Disney. And it was met with more retaliation.
Really? It makes me feel like maybe I would hate going to a theme park more than I originally thought.
But now I have this problem of knowing how much Teghan would love those rides. Teghan’s language limitations mean that we have no way of explaining the concept of how lines work. I don’t mind waiting as long as everyone else; but the requirement of waiting in the actual line would eliminate amusement parks for us entirely.
We waited at the fair for less than ten minutes. She was on the platform, next in line, watching a roller coaster fly past- and still had extreme difficulty with the idea that she wasn’t magically on it right then. I will never be willing to wait in line with her for an hour for anything. I know from experience that the amount of times it would take for her to grasp the concept could be infinity- and I don’t hate either of us that much. My only motivation would come from hating those angry commenters enough to maybe want to stand right next to them in line. Do any parks have a program that is able to arrange that?
Ask me again in a couple of years. Teghan is taking after her father, so she may be taller than me by next year. I’ll look into all this again when the time comes. I am willing to battle the heat, crowds, and exhaustion for her to have a chance at enjoying the same things other kids enjoy. Maybe not Shoot the Rapids (which is now probably the safest ride at Cedar Point). There are few typical childhood experiences we can share, and this is one of them. But I certainly don’t think I should have to battle some clueless jerk for her right to even be there.
So please, keep your judgmental glares and rude comments aimed at the people who are actually abusing the system. There a lot of them, and they are the real reason that your ride waits are longer. Glare at the group of five teenagers who are taking turns on a wheelchair. The families who use these passes as a chance to experience the park when otherwise they would be forced to stay home? Leave them alone.