Since DS1 was diagnosed with Aspergers in January there haven’t been many up sides to report.
Whilst it is expected that you will experience some comfort or relief from obtaining a label, in truth, that’s pretty much all you get. Because aside from that, the support is pretty non existant. Indeed, in the 7 months since his diagnosis, I have still not yet received even a referral to an NHS paediatrician for basic monitoring, yet alone the Occupational Therapy assessment recommended in his report.
So here we are, left to more or less bumble along, self educating as we go, and trying our very best to make family life work.
However, one small yet important up side has come in the most unexpected of places. Theme parks.
You see, since our diagnosis, I have been getting to grips with what the UK Theme Parks do to make their environments more autism friendly, and the vast majority of them offer various forms of accessibility passes (or queue jumping passes) to guests with social and communication related difficulties.
Each pass works slightly differently (usually offering a limited number of queue jumps per ride and per day), and obtaining one on your day of arrival takes a little preparation and patience – visits to an often busy ‘Guest Information” hut, standing in queues with the little man (kind of ironic making them queue to get a fast pass because they can’t tolerate queueing!), producing official paperwork to prove your child does really have difficulty, completing registration forms etc. It’s not a walk in the park. And I have to admit, I was pretty uncomfortable with applying for them at first. I felt cheeky, unworthy, somehow like I was doing something I shouldn’t.
I know many other guests at the parks silently hate us for it. I see the stares as we rock up at the separate disabled entrance and by pass the long queue they have diligently waited in for as much as 90 minutes. It’s ok, I get it. I understand your perspective: I was probably one of you years ago, and I know my son doesn’t look disabled to the untrained observer, so why is he standing at the disabled entrance?
But, the impact these fast passes have had on our days out is substantial. You see, they have given us just a little piece of freedom back.
Before DS1’s diagnosis, theme park visits were at best painful, and at worst, traumatic. I could never understand why, despite being insanely excited at the prospect of going, once there, he would appear to be the most obnoxious, ungrateful and darn right rude child imaginable. Sometimes he would even resort to aggression and violence, like the time he took one good friend to Legoland for his birthday and then bit her during an outburst. So I almost always left these places embarrassed, offended and resentful of his behaviour and vowing never to visit such a place again.
But now, with the benefit of hindsight and a whole heap more understanding about my boy’s challenges, I see why those exciting days out always ended up in disaster.
What I, and the other patient queuers couldn’t see was that my son finds the regular customs of a day at the theme park so difficult. As a sensory seeker, he loves the rush of a ride. Experiencing the exhilaration of a rollercoaster is a moment when he is at his most relaxed and free. But he finds queues simply intolerable. The requirement to stand still for long periods of time is impossible for him – his sensory difficulties cause him to fidget endlessly, to climb up and over railings. The crowds are overwhelming – the noise, the claustrophobia will cause him to stim. His poor spatial awareness means he will inevitably bump into everyone around him whilst he climbs and wanders. Add to this the fact that he struggles to understand the feelings of others or the reason he has to wait, and a meltdown is inevitable at practically every ride.
So what you may see (just like I used to) as a poorly behaved, hyperactive and rude little boy – is actually something quite different.
And those access passes (coupled with more understanding from me of how to prepare for the other likely meltdown triggers a day like this will present) have removed that silent struggle from my little man, and allowed us to enjoy, rather than endure these occasions. To be just that little bit less on edge.
We have visited 3 theme parks using the access passes since his diagnosis, and without doubt, every experience has been radically different to our earlier attempts. To see him excited, thriving and carefree, like any other child should be, is a joy.
We need those times. He needs those times.
And I appreciate this accommodation of his needs so much. So thank you to Paulton’s Park, Legoland, Chessington and all the others that have implemented such a system. However imperfect, those passes matter.