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How to Enjoy Disney World When Your Child Has Autism

This year my husband insisted on a trip to Disney World. I resisted because our nine-year-old, James, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. James can normally blend in with his non-autistic classmates, but this was Disney: three solid days of overstimulation, temptation, distraction, and surprises.


But James is only one member of our four-person family. We also have a seven-year-old princess… I mean daughter.

I visited an easy-to-find section of Disney’s website: Services for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities, “including those on the Autism Spectrum.” There I found a chart with sensory details on each ride: smells, bumps, sounds, flashing lights, periods of darkness. There were videos to help kids prepare, and lists of what to bring, such as headphones, earplugs, or a favorite toy. There were maps to special “break areas,” where people could go if they were overstimulated.

All the basics that most people with autism need.

The tricky part is, James is like most people with autism, in that he’s not like most people with autism. Autism features a wide range of presentations, from severely developmentally delayed people who can’t speak, to college-educated professionals. So each person’s needs are highly specific.

James didn’t need a sensory guide. When it comes to roller coasters, the louder, the flashier, the bumpier, the better. But crowds? Unfamiliar foods? Unexpected closures? Far-away restrooms? Any of these, and especially these in combination, could ruin the trip.

Exhaustive preparation is always my best defense. Disney offers Fast Passes for free to all visitors, not just those with disabilities. They were all we needed (beyond advance dinner reservations and a restriction on overdoing it) for our first two days in the Magic Kingdom. A Fast Pass gives you a generous time window during which to report for a ride, and admits you to a fast-moving line once you show up.

On the first day of our visit, we had a hint of what was to come. We hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, our second planned ride, about 45 minutes ahead of our Fast Pass arrival time. I decided we’d wait in the regular line, which looked short to me.

Well, actually James decided. I wanted to use our Disability Access Pass, which we’d obtained within our first 15 minutes at the Magic Kingdom. It would have functioned like a Fast Pass, sparing us some time in line but not swooping us to the front.

“I understand,” the young woman at the desk had murmured before the second half of “High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder” was out of my mouth. Then she asked to take James’ picture.

“Mom,” James whined, looking around us. When I’d first mentioned the pass to him, he’d put his foot down. “Disability Pass? No. I don’t need special treatment.”

Cool kid, right?

Before I was James’ mother I was a child psychologist specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorders. I follow my own advice, even though being the mom is nothing like being the psychologist. Instead of supporting James in his attempt to tough it out, I made him get the Disability Access Pass, which afterward he referred to as the Autism Pass.

Any little bit could help.

Back to Big Thunder Mountain. Disney lines snake around, so that you can’t tell you’re near the front until just before you hop on the ride. At precisely the 30-minute mark, James abruptly stepped within a millimeter of the young woman in front of him and growled, “I hate this person. I’m going to push her.”

He didn’t push her. He never planned to. This was just his way of saying he’d had enough waiting. Unfortunately, I could tell by the young woman’s face that he didn’t look at all autistic to her.

He looked like a brat.

Later, I asked James what he would rather be: a brat, or a person with autism?

“I just hated that girl. She was in my way.”

I explained and explained, but in the end he agreed only to this: 30 minutes in line was his limit. For any wait beyond that, we would use the Autism Pass.

Most people are beginning to understand that Autism Spectrum Disorder means different things for different people. What’s less commonly understood is that it means different things for the same person at different times.

Hopping out of the front car of Space Mountain, high-fiving his dad and exclaiming, “That was awesome!” James looks like a typical nine year old. But tack on a few discomforts and uncertainties, and suddenly he’s scratching gashes into his own forearms and yelling, “Put me up for adoption!”

I’d do anything to prevent one of these rare outbursts. As she arranged our Disability Access Pass, the young woman had asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I said no, because I didn’t know where to start. At the end of our trip, I came up with a wish list:

  • A private taxi from our hotel room’s door to the front of the park.
  • The cell phone number of the taxi driver so we could escape at a moment’s notice.
  • Immediate service at any restaurant offering plain hamburgers, hot dogs, or cheese pizza.
  • Immediate restroom access within 100 feet of any ride.
  • For all gift shops to hide their Star Wars action figures, until such time as we were ready to make a purchase.
  • A magic pod that would transport us swiftly through a crowd of any size, so that we wouldn’t have to dodge people as we walked.

Recall that James doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, and it’s an impossible situation. I wanted that magic pod, and I wanted it to be invisible, too.

Like Disney proved in their guide, I know what’s likely to trigger my child with autism. I zero in on these triggers and try to snuff them out completely in the name of family fun.

But spontaneity is also part of the fun. By the third day, even as James’ stress level increased, we both appreciated the pop-up parade, the roaming Tigger, and the Mickey-shaped waffle. We would have missed all of that if I’d been “helped” to everything on my list.

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With two babies in tow, getting out the door often becomes doubly challenging. From the extra things to carry to the extra space needed in your backseat, it can be easy to feel daunted at the prospect of a day out. But before you resign yourself to life indoors, try incorporating these five genius products from Nuna to get you and the littles out the door. (Because Vitamin D is important, mama!)

1. A brilliant double stroller

You've got more to carry—and this stroller gets it. The DEMI™ grow stroller from Nuna easily converts from a single ride to a double stroller thanks to a few easy-to-install accessories. And with 23 potential configurations, you're ready to hit the road no matter what life throws at you.

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$799.95, Nuna

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2. A light car seat

Lugging a heavy car seat is the last thing a mama of two needs to have on her hands. Instead, pick up the PIPA™ lite, a safe, svelte design that weighs in at just 5.3 pounds (not counting the canopy or insert)—that's less than the average newborn! When you need to transition from car to stroller, this little beauty works seamlessly with Nuna's DEMI™ grow.

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3. A super safe car seat base

The thing new moms of multiples really need to get out the door? A little peace of mind. The PIPA™ base features a steel stability leg for maximum security that helps to minimize forward rotation during impact by up to 90% (compared to non-stability leg systems) and 5-second installation for busy mamas.

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4. A diaper bag you want to carry

It's hard to find an accessory that's as stylish as it is functional. But the Nuna diaper bag pulls out all the stops with a sleek design that perfectly conceals a deceptively roomy interior (that safely stores everything from extra diapers to your laptop!). And with three ways to wear it, even Dad will want to take this one to the park.

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5. A crib that travels

Getting a new baby on a nap schedule—while still getting out of the house—is hard. But with the SENA™ aire mini, you can have a crib ready no matter where your day takes you. It folds down and pops up easily for sleepovers at grandma's or unexpected naps at your friend's house, and the 360-degree ventilation ensures a comfortable sleep.

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With 5 essentials that are as flexible as you need to be, the only thing we're left asking is, where are you going to go, mama?

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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