Ten Questions With Maureen Deal from Autism At The Parks

 

11096522_10206492090012113_7151693489647224709_nWhen 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.

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 4.)  What impact(s) have you seen for your family on touring the parks
frequently?

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.

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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
family?

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
Disney.

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
developmental disability).
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.

Travel Product Review: Osmo

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Osmo is a game changing iPad product that has won several awards including Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2014

Like most parents of a child with Autism, the iPad has become both a source of relief (when time on the device can be granted) and stress  (when we can’t find it or it’s not charged!).  Apples game changing product has really found a home with families with Autism in ways I don’t think the company could have predicted.  We use it for social stories, schedules, apps for learning, games, and yes cartoons for calming when we are on the move.

We were early adopters to the technology with our youngest in school, and he was granted an iPad very early on in his IEP as both a tool and a reward for good behaviors.  Things continued on like that for awhile until I saw a video for a truly game changing technology, Osmo.  Right before Christmas, and probably due to the vast amounts of advertising the company was doing in the 4th Quarter I got hooked in by a fellow Autism mom to visit the site and just see what the application was all about.  It’s something you truly have to see to appreciate.  Utilizing a simple mirror that fits over the camera, Osmo brings the iPad app games to your table space by creating a fully hands on but engaging experience.

The apps and games that come with the standard set include items that help with spatial learning (Tangram), Spelling/Verbal/Vocab learning (Words) and yes Physics (Newton).  Included in the package are the instructions for both play and downloading the apps to your device.  Understanding the games is something that is innate and once our son opened the box he was playing within a few minutes.  The games become progressively more difficult to a point where we took it to a Christmas gathering and adults even had a bit of a time and it led to great times and great competition as you can play Words in teams!

But, the emphasis of our blog here is about travel.  This set comes together seamlessly and travels with ease.  The boxes all close with light magnets, and stick to each other the same way.  There are no chords and the packaging means that all of the system is in one place and complete ready for play.  The efficient size as well is perfect for plane play for your child (or you!) as you can use it easily on trays in air travel or lap trays in the car.  Also while we were at our destination, Osmo came out several times as a way to calm and re-center our kiddo, and again came out at family gatherings for a bit of competitive play with all generations.  It seems this can be used in so many different ways, and the entry to this will only lead to further applications and use.

Also can be a great way to pass the time inside of airports as you wait for your flight to arrive or have a layover.  Our child can have anxiety when waiting for something that he is really looking forward to.  This app takes up minimal space and so long as he has a quiet corner he can open the boxes and become immersed to pass the time in a great way that keeps his anxiety levels down and his ability to process more amiable.

 

As soon as I posted a video of our son playing with the game set on Christmas morning the response, even on a Holiday was immediate.  Teachers and parents alike wanted to know more about this item and a few immediately bought it that day for their classrooms and for their families.  We still crack it out on family game night, but more importantly it goes in my carry on for flights no matter where we are headed as I know at some point the request for iPad time is going to happen, and well I would like that time to be fruitful.

You can learn more about Osmo here: https://www.playosmo.com

Osmo retails for $79 and comes complete with stand, camera cover and three complete game sets and apps.  Osmo has become one of the most requested iPad apps for our son when he is having iPad time.  What are some of your kiddos favorite apps?  Post them in the comments below!

Looking at Disney Waits Differently

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We all tour the parks differently but at some point we all must wait. Whether it’s waiting in the car or plane, we all cope with the anticipation of getting to the happiest place on earth. When I was a little girl I could not wait to go on my first Disney vacation and we did our share of waiting from Louisiana to California on a three week journey stopping everywhere imaginable on the way to California. I could not wait to get there; but, my dad said to me “don’t rush it– anticipation is half the fun.” Now to a 12 year old that sounded really crazy – how could waiting for something wonderful be a good thing? How is “wanting to go” better or just as wonderful as being there? It made no sense, certainly that was dad code for be quiet we will get there when we get there.

It seemed an eternity as my sister, who was nearly four, and I poured over the glossy booklet in the back of the car looking at photos of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, fireworks with Tinkerbell, tomorrowland and the newest ride Pirates of the Caribbean. I could not stand the wait and every time I closed the book I asked my sister which ride she looked forward to most she replied, “ I want to ride the cups.” Across Texas that seemed to never end to Pike’s Peak, up Wyoming, around the loops in Yellowstone to Sun Valley my sister repeated, I want to ride the cups. Two weeks into the car trip the pages began to show wear as my patience grew weary too. I thought that if I heard my sister say she wanted to ride the cups again I would scream. Craters of the Moon? –Who cares– it’s no Matterhorn; couldn’t my parents see San Francisco cannot compete with Disneyland?

Now I’m beginning to think maybe we can leave my sister in a cup and no one will notice as her chant “I want to ride the cups” tests my patience when at last we reach Anaheim.
So we arrive and my sister’s chanting “I want to ride the cups” becomes more repetitive and what do we do when we get there? We wait. Who said anything about wanting to see Mr. Lincoln when my dad must realize the only cure for this chant lies in Fantasyland, but again we wait. Fortunately my dad helped us take advantage of the long lines. We had waited so long and the ride for Pirates of the Caribbean was over two hours.

So we spent time talking about our anticipation, the upcoming attraction, the detail in the surrounding buildings, how far we had come to get there and where we were going next. Fortunately my sister was younger and shorter so her cup chant projected at a near inaudible level. I think my dad sensed our fatigue and would start to point out minor details and talk about real life pirates. From there we planned our next attraction or talked about what we rode and how we loved it. We talked about what we could be doing at home if we were not there, and when the lined seemed to really never end we talked about coming back to do it all over again.
Family time in line builds on the memories a family takes home. Delay of gratification another hidden benefit as research has demonstrated that children who can delay gratification at an early age are often more successful in obtaining personal goals in adulthood. Teaching your children to wait may prove beneficial in the long term when working toward more beneficial goals in the future like their profession. Especially if your child is ADHD or impulsive, learning to wait your turn teaches skills that will help develop skills useful in school and future endeavors long after returning home. No room for grumpy here, we kept it positive. Yes we had to deal with the heat, lines, the lack of shade, thirst, fatigue but we had no time for misery. My dad challenged us to become our own imagineers and use our own problem solving strategies to overcome the obstacles.
My dad is no longer with us but we love planning and anticipating our next Disney vacation and look forward to the opportunities to meet at Disney World with our families. We spend much of our line – time chatting, reminiscing, planning our next attraction or afternoon and sharing with our families. After more than 40 years of Disney vacations inevitably on every trip my sister turns to me and says “I want to ride the cups” and we laugh and rush off to the cups with huge smiles as childhood memories flood back knowing every moment waiting was worth it.