Monday, December 20, 2010

The Most Magical Place on Earth

Last week, my mom took me and the girls to Disney World for our Christmas present. We also got to spend one day at Universal Studios to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! It has more than 4 years since we attempted Disney with Reece. The last time we went she spent much of the time in the stroller we rented for her. She did have fun, but she was pretty much in her own world. My family and I are huge Disney fans, and we really wanted to include Reece in our Disney experience. Reece has really changed so much lately, so we decided it was time to give it a try.

Disney is absolutely fantastic with their accommodations for children on the spectrum. I had taken a letter with me from her doctor, but the didn't even asked to see it. I went to Guest Services on our first day in the parks and told them our situation. I was expecting a lot of questioning, as I had heard they have gotten more stringent since our last visit. But this cast member immediately went to get me a Guest Assistance Card which was marked for us to be able to use an alternate entrance where available. He did tell me about a few extra restrictions, but we weren't required to follow any of those during our visit. What this card allowed us to do was to use the Fast Pass entrance without having to get a Fast Pass, or we could also use the handicapped entrance. This means that Reece didn't have to wait very long for her turn to ride, and that truly made such a difference!

At Universal, I hadn't heard about any sort of accommodations, but I decided on the spur of the moment to ask at their Guest Services. The lady was VERY helpful and offered me a card that was similar to the GAC at Disney. I can't remember what it's called and my mom has it in her package of souvenirs at her house, but I will be sure to ask her to get the name of it for me. But all I did was tell the lady at Guest Services that my daughter has autism and was there anything they could do to help make the day go more smoothly. This card was similar to the one at WDW. If the wait was less than 30 minutes, it worked exactly like the GAC - we used the Express line. If the wait was 30 minutes or more, we had to get a cast member (guessing that's what they are called at Universal) to sign our card and give us a return time. We used it twice in this way and the return time was always equal to the standby time. Then we could go wait elsewhere and return during our time to use the Express line. This worked GREAT, but let me encourage you to take the advice the Guest Services lady gave me and do not take the child with autism with you to get the return time, lest your child with ASD get upset about not being able to ride right away like they are used to doing on the other rides.

All in all, the many things that I had been worried about with Reece during this trip did not occur. It was absolutely magical. She was patient. She was flexible. She slept in the strange hotel room (two rooms actually as we stayed over in Ocala Sunday night to break up the drive time). She talked to adults and children - actually she called all of the cast members by name. We had taken her up to a cast member upon our arrival and showed her their name tag, so in case she got lost she would know what to look for. I had bought Road IDs for both girls, and I told them that if they got lost, they should find a cast member, show them their ID which had my cell phone and my mom's cell phone number on it, and tell them they are lost. I was worried that she wouldn't keep the Road ID on, but she never flinched about it one time or complained that it was bothering her! She handled the crowds of people well, though we did our best to flank her on 3 sides. She did not have a SINGLE meltdown. Not ONE!!

It was truly amazing. A magical, magical time. We had breakfast at the castle (my favorite thing to do ever!) and she wore Belle's Christmas Dress costume that Riley had gotten during our first trip down. Belle came to our table and said, "Have you been going through my closet again??" and she just laughed. But I noticed that most of the little girls just giggled when the princesses spoke to them. I think it's a bit overwhelming to be talking to a real princess. Then Ariel came, which is Reece's favorite, and she was so excited, and so was I! I've never seen Ariel at the castle breakfast, and how exciting that she should be there for Reece!

I could go on and on but that would be boring, and I won't have pictures to share until my mom goes through them all and shares them with me. But I will leave you with my 2 favorite moments from the trip. The first was how Reece started off our days leaving our room at the resort. We were on the 4th, and top, floor and we would walk out of the room and she would loudly announce, "Hello, Earthlings!!!!" It cracked us up every single time. And the looks on the faces of the people walking down below were priceless!

The last thing I want to share was the parade during the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, which had to be the most wonderful part of the trip. That day had been so long. We went to Animal Kingdom first and rode Expedition Everest 5 times, plus rode the other rides. Then we came back to the room to rest before the party. When we arrived at the party it was wall-to-wall people, so much that it made me uncomfortable. We hid out in the corners in several places while we ate dinner, and then later our complimentary apples, cookies, and cocoa. But the fireworks and castle stage show were extremely crowded. So before the parade (which started at 10:30, we didn't even try the earlier one which was much, much more crowded) I asked a cast member if there was a place where we could watch the parade and get away from some of the crowds. He directed me to the front of the park to a disability seating area. When we finally made our way there, it was already full, but the cast member working that section directed us across the street to a completely empty spot that I never would have found otherwise. We had front-row viewing and no crowds. It was the first time Reece has seen a parade, that she probably remembers, and she was beyond excited. She was wearing the Belle's Christmas Dress again and she was jumping up and down and waving and blowing kisses - and so many of the cast members would wave and smile and blow kisses back. And then, The Beast actually BOWED to her as they came by on the float!! She was so thrilled, and it was an amazing experience to see her that happy!

I know we can't expect another Disney trip to go as smoothly as this one did, but I will take the memories of this trip and treasure them forever. I am sure my mom would tell you that it was money well-spent! Each night on the bus back to the resort, Reece would snuggle up next to her and say, "Nana, this is the best day EVER!!" :)

Monday, December 06, 2010

An update

We are nearing our Christmas break, and I think it's safe to say all of us are ready! But we have had a most productive school year so far, with the possible exception of NaNoWriMo! LOL It's nice to see the books being finished and talked about, and progress being made in our math books. We're actually half way through the history book for the first time ever. It's mind-boggling! But, I remember that spring is always such a busy time for us, and we will appreciate the hard work that we put in now. I think it also helped that Austin's ankle hindered us from the many wonderful field trips our homeschool group had planned! LOL

Just a note about Reece and her math... we had to slow down a little bit, not because the math itself was any more difficult, but because so much of RightStart at this level requires advanced auditory processing. Well, it's probably not advanced for the target age (5-7 years old), but it is for a child with auditory and language processing problems. When she started to have to hold problems like 43 + 79 in her head and solve them, I saw her frustration level building. It wasn't that she couldn't do the computation in her head, it was that she couldn't hold those numbers in her head! I decided that while we'll continue to work on building her auditory processing skills, it wasn't worth the negative feelings that she was getting. So I simply started writing the numbers down so she could see them. It really helped a lot. I figured it was the sort of compensation that wasn't interfering with the purpose of the lesson, but would help alleviate frustration from her processing challenges. So we do a few auditorily, and then I'll write a few on the board for her to see the numbers.

And she continues to surprise me! Today was a lesson that I expected to be quite difficult for her. She was given a set of 5 numbers and had to select which ones added up to 20. There could be 2, 3, 4, or 5 numbers. But she breezed right through it and declared that type of worksheet to be the most fun kind ever! :)

Austin is doing much better. He is able to walk around on the boot without crutches, and he is back to drumming. He has joined a rock band and has been to two practices. He's able to "gazelle" again and I think it helps him quite a bit. We don't know yet about baseball this spring. He goes back to the doctor after Christmas and we'll be keeping our fingers crossed!

Riley is her usual busy self. Her dance company did their first missions/outreach project yesterday when they performed at a nursing home. It was a lovely dance and I'm very proud of her!

Hope to be able to post more during Christmas break!!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo update

I made my word count goal on Sunday evening. The story isn't my best, by far, but I did manage to get it done and I guess that's the real point.

None of the kids made their goals. We won't be doing NaNoWriMo next year. None of us. It has just turned into too much stress and not nearly enough fun. I don't need yet another thing to be nagging the kids about. I even bought several of their rewards in anticipation of them making their goals and they didn't. I have a whole bag full of stuff. It's truly disappointing. And I don't need yet another thing that I feel pressure to complete.

Now I feel like the kids wasted an entire month of language arts. Yeah, won't be doing this again.