Our trip to Disney World…..

a fun time or a disaster?


My name is Susan Bolig and I am the North Central Regional Coordinator for Parent to Parent of Pa. I am married with three children, two grown adults, Tommy and Laura, and our 17-year-old son, Ryan. My story is about an experience we had five years ago with our youngest son.

Wow, what great news, a family trip to Disney World! A surprise vacation set up by my husband and sister in law. I should be thrilled and excited but I was like-WHAT?  I don’t know if this is a good idea. Our son, Ryan has never flown in an airplane before. He has eating issues. He hates the hot sun. He doesn’t always like crowds and new places. It is a lot of money to spend. That was my immediate reaction- SHEER PANIC. You see, our son has Autism and going on trips can be a lot of work. They can work out great or they can be a disaster.

As we finalized the details of our trip and packed to go, with his favorite food items and every electronic device we could take, I was still not sure this was a good idea.

Waiting at the airport was a little stressful but not too bad. We just did a lot of walking to stay busy. Surprisingly, the airplane ride was great! Ryan thought the turbulence was just like a roller coaster ride.

Our first morning, we woke up and drove to Magic Kingdom. We had to wait in line to get into the park. When we entered the park, Ryan started screaming and stimming. Stimming is self-stimulatory behavior that, in a person with autism, often refers to behaviors that may include hand- flapping, rocking or repetition of words and phrases.

The tears started in my eyes. I am thinking we are going back to our hotel. My husband took him into the bathroom to splash water on his face and to wet his cooling towel, to wrap around his neck. I went to the guest services to get ride accommodations for us. Luckily we were able to get special passes to enter the fast pass lanes. I just kept thinking, if we can just get him on the rides, since that is what he loves to do, he will be happy. We went on the first ride and Ryan started to settle down. I set a timer on my phone and told Ryan in “5 hours” when the timer goes off we will be done”. We went into several shows and I would always make sure we sat very close to the doorways for a fast get away. After a few shows, my husband looked at me and said, I think he loves the shows and we can sit in the middle now. I am always so cautious and worry that we will interrupt other families.

Amazingly, we made it through all the rides and shows we thought Ryan would like, right before the timer went off. We enjoyed five hours at the park, a victory for us!

Later that evening, I was getting ready to go back to the park for the nighttime parade by myself and Ryan got his shoes on and pointed to the door. I asked him, “do you want to go back to the park and he answered yes”. I was shocked and thrilled. While we were back at Magic Kingdom waiting for the parade, Ryan said, “Space Mountain”. Needless to say, we left our spot and headed for the ride! We had never heard Ryan ask for a specific ride before, another great accomplishment. We spent three more days at the different Parks, setting our timer for 5 hours. Even with Ryan’s few food preferences, we were able to get him to eat enough food. Every night when we returned to our hotel room, Ryan would pack up our things, so he was ready to go home.

Having a child with Autism can be a challenge and can be very hard to try new things like vacations, but by taking the chance, we survived and even thrived four days at Disney World.  My surprise vacation, which  could have been a disaster turned out to be fun and memorable.