I recently contributed to her Kickstarter campaign and hope you will too! Her book will be called "Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide". Here is the link and some general information about autism that might aid in a better understanding of this condition and why places like the Disney Parks represent special challenges for them.
General Info on Autism
Perhaps the most important group of disabled people who both participate in and challenge the Disney approach to disabilities are those with autism. The reasons are as complex as the diagnosis itself. Each child who attends the Disney parks tests the "one-size-fits-all" approach of a disability policy. While those educated know, not all disabled people are the same, it takes even more understanding to recognize the differences between those with autism. That is why it's referred to as a spectrum.
Autism is a condition now affecting roughly 1 in 68 children. Many of these children require diligent, extensive, consistent care. The symptoms of autism, also called Autism Spectrum Disorder, are varied. They include significant problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye contact, facial expressions, and behavior. A need for sameness and routines is common and those with autism may be uncooperative or resistant to change and may act out this resistance in their behavior.
One of the more important aspects to the condition of autism as it relates to Disney Park visits is that it is a non apparent disability. To some, a child with autism may seem normal at first glance. But if you attempt to engage them in conversation, or if you should happen to see them deal with sensory overload you might then observe a behavioral response far out of scope of what a normal child would exhibit. With some children, an outburst or behavior - often called a "meltdown" - may appear like a temper tantrum. However, those with experience in behavioral issues know that there are significant differences between a common temper tantrum and a meltdown from an autistic child. For instance, temper tantrums are usually goal-based behavior -- that is, the child is attempting to get "their way" by manipulating others with their behavior. The behavior will generally subside when the child receives their goal of if looming greater negative consequences are presented if the behavior continues. This is not so with the autistic meltdown. While they may be triggered by a variety of conditions (i.e. sensory overload, upset expectations, etc.), the behavior of the meltdown generally needs to run it's course, gradually diminishing over time regardless of any reward or punishment. In other words, meltdowns don't follow the rules of a common sense behavioral approach. Yet, those without experience with or knowledge of autism who observe the behavior seek to impose these rules upon them.
This so-called "Meltdown Behavior" is important because it presents a problem Disney must decide how to deal with in its policy. When granting or denying access -- or as some people see it -- special privileges, what will be the repercussions for both the disabled visitors and/or the patrons around them? Will any special access for autistic children be viewed as unfair to normal patrons? And, does not granting what many autistic families regard as necessary for their child to enjoy the park, constitute denial of access?
Is Disney a Leader or a Follower?
Disney is rapidly becoming a testing ground for how society deals with all disabilities. How far will society go to include those with disabilities that many people simply either don't understand - or worse, don't care to? Is it "reasonable accommodation" to provide special access for those with autism? Autism is a spectrum. Does Disney provide access to all of them, or will there be some accommodations they just can't make because they are too far out of scope and would affect business operations? As Disney works to refine their approach to disability policy, they seek a balance in these areas. But more importantly, Disney may need to wait until the public's view of these things catches up. For whatever reason, autistic children are more commonplace in our society. Yet, the public understanding of them is not always up to speed. In this way, Disney must become a leader in ways to provide appropriate access even if the general public does not understand. As more people become aware of the condition, then Disney may have an easier time of providing them the access they need.
Kathy's book, "Walt Disney World with Autism: A Special Needs Guide" will be an important contribution and resource not only for those seeking information about how they can better enjoy Disney World with Autism, but it will also help create a better understanding for all on this important issue.