When we first began Up & Up Travel, one of the first people I reached out to was Maureen Deal. Her site: AutismattheParks.com continues to be an invaluable resource for families planning and traveling to the theme parks in Orlando, Florida. As well once you get to know Maureen you know just how passionate, and wonderful, of a person she is not only helping other families with Autism. I asked Maureen if I could interview her for our blog this month, especially in light of it being Autism Awareness Month, and she responded so positively I was blown away.
I cannot encourage our readers to make great use of her site, her knowledge and her passion for helping families!
1.) What brought you to Orlando?
My husband received a job offer in 2007. One of the reasons we looked at
Orlando was how wonderful our son’s experience at Disney had been the two
times we previously vacationed here.
2.) Have you always written, or was it a found talent?
It’s a relatively new skill for me. I started writing for the Orlando
Informer website in 2012. Dan Hatfield was the owner at that time and
provided excellent mentoring and advice about my writing. Also using my
husband’s feedback, I’ve been able to (hopefully) improve my writing over
the last few years. It is much easier for me to write facts than to evoke
emotion but I am continuously trying to improve.
3.) You are an autism parent as well as writing for other autism parents
and those with autism. What got you started down that path of providing
this unique perspective?
The old saying “do what you know” is really how I got started, along with
my brother’s encouragement. When we moved here in 2007, my son was 13 and
my family and I would visit one of Orlando’s theme parks every weekend.
Because of our experiences and the accommodations available at the parks
for guests with disabilities, I found I could help others make their
vacations better for the entire family.
4.) What impact(s) have you seen for your family on touring the parks
Because we live locally, we can enjoy Orlando’s theme parks often. Due to
his autism, our son is not able to experience many of the things his
typical peers may experience. The theme parks are an incredible outlet
where we can have fun together as a family and our son can enjoy himself
just like anyone else. We are frequently recognized by cast members at
Disney and team members at Universal, especially at our son’s favorite
attractions. The CMs and TMs are genuinely happy to see us and it makes us
feel that extra special magic of the theme parks. Even though the parks
are 45 minutes from our home, we still like to take a mini-vacation about
once a year and stay close to or on property in order to get the full
experience and spend longer days at the parks.
5.) Outside of the parks, what takes up your time? Where are your passions?
Now that my son is an adult, I’ve been focusing on his needs and teaching
him more life skills and job skills. I have also been working on improving
and expanding the services provided by my website. I’m an avid reader,
HGTV fan and addicted to cruising as much as my budget will allow. I also
have embraced the minimalist’s philosophy that experiences and
relationships are more important than things. For the last few years my
family and I have been donating/selling/tossing unnecessary items that we
don’t love and focusing more on our family’s meaningful experiences.
6.) How long have you administered Autism at the Parks and what have been
your greatest challenges/joys in sharing this blog with the rest of us?
I created AutismAtTheParks.com in 2012. I wanted a website that guests who
are visiting Orlando with a family member with autism or other disability
could go to for information they might need related to their Orlando
vacation, not just a couple of blog posts in a general information
website. The greatest joys I’ve experienced with my website have been the
families that say my website has genuinely helped their family have a
great vacation and all the wonderful people I have met in person or
online. I’ve learned so much from other parents and theme parks fans and
truly enjoy the interactions in this wonderful community.
7.) Can you share a story of your favorite memory from touring the
Orlando Parks: WDW or Universal?
There are so many great experiences but one comes to mind almost
immediately. A few years ago, my husband and son were at the Beauty and
the Beast show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I was at home). This live
show was a favorite of our son’s for several years and he was very
enthusiastic in his enjoyment of the show, with his excited shrills and
happy flapping of his hands. One day after the show a CM approached my
husband and asked if they would like to meet some of the cast of the
production. They escorted my husband and son backstage and were met by
Belle and the cast of performers for a private meet and greet. My son and
husband were very honored and excited to meet the cast and they presented
my son with an enchanted rose. It was truly a magic experience that we
will never forget.
8.) Now the million dollar question, which park do you like the most?
That is really a tough question for me, since I love each park for their
unique features not to be found anywhere else. If I had to choose only
one, it would have to be the Magic Kingdom. Even though I’ve visited that
park many times, I still get excited when I see Cinderella’s Castle and I
enjoy so many of the classic attractions and shows the park has to offer.
It is still a magical place for me.
9.) When the GAC changed to DAS, how did it end up working out for your
It was tough changing from the GAC to the DAS and on crowded days we still
struggle. My son always chose what he wanted to do next by pointing on the
map or indicating he wanted to ride an attraction for a second or third
time. Now his choices are limited and rather than letting him control
attraction selection, we as his parents have to decide ahead of time what
we will be doing with the FP+ reservations and scheduling our times.
Although we still try to focus on his preferred attractions, our
experience at Disney is much less spontaneous and more structured and
inflexible. Due to their accommodations we are able to be more flexible
and spontaneous at Universal and visit there as frequently as we do
10.) Best piece of advice you would give to parents or individuals
planning a trip to Orlando?
Just a few tips:
1) Visit my website at www.AutismAtTheParks.com and click on the menu tabs
for detailed information and tips for Orlando’s theme parks.
2) Start a walking program two to three months before your vacation in
Orlando. You’ll walk at a minimum 3-5 miles in a day and fatigue is a big
contributor to meltdowns (for all family members, not just those with a
3) Invest in Body Glide. It is used by runners to prevent blisters and
chafing in any area that may rub-for example, the bottom of your feet,
under your arms, legs, etc.
4) Study the park maps available online and become familiar with what you
can do, especially if you’ve never visited before.
5) And finally: don’t sweat the small stuff. Realize it is impossible to
see every single thing on one vacation but try to have an enjoyable
vacation with your family.