Dec 18, 2013 10 Share

Life Lessons at Disney World

Crowd watching a parade at Disney World.

My Thanksgiving vacation in Florida was very relaxing and fun. My family and I greatly enjoyed soaking in the Sunshine State’s copious amount of refreshing rays, a nice change of pace from the brutal winters we typically find ourselves in. We had a great time staying with my uncle and also enjoyed some neat experiences including walking the beach on the Gulf of Mexico, a jaunt through a luxurious garden where we saw birds that I have never seen up close before like a crane, and a tour of some unique shops including Hulk Hogan’s beach shop. I love WWE, so visiting Hogan’s shop was a highlight for me. The icing on the cake, though, was the two days we were able to spend at Disney World, where I picked up some valuable insights into my life that are still lingering in my mind.

One aspect of my time visiting Disney that left a strong impression on me was how I continue to learn to cope with large crowds. I had purchased two guidebooks on Disney World to help me plan our trip, and I had made sure to schedule our visit for days in which, according to my guidebooks, the parks would not be very crowded. Even though we did go on days when the parks should not have been at peak capacity, I was surprised and a bit put off to see such a large number of people as we entered the main gate. The Magic Kingdom in particular was densely populated, a proverbial sea of humanity. 

There is a part of me that still cringes slightly when I am in the middle of a crowd. I find myself anticipating the uncomfortable feeling that always comes over me when I am surrounded by people, especially if I feel I am packed in like a sardine with little sense of direction. For me, it becomes especially pronounced when I am literally brushing up against other people’s shoulders and the noise level is high, a situation which played out seemingly everywhere we went during our first day.    

When I was younger, I would lash out at people who were too close to me by either biting them or pushing them away from me. I felt closed-in upon, and I was unable to handle all the stimuli all at once. As I have gotten older and with the help of some great therapies, I have been able to handle being in crowds a great deal better. So, even though I had the same initial feeling I always get when faced with a large gathering, once I realized that the crowds would likely last all day, I decided to simply “go with the flow” and enjoy my time in the park like everyone else was doing. I had a much more positive experience as a result. I was greatly relieved, though, when, during our second and final day at Epcot, the population was much more spread out.

I have also continued to reflect on the art of proper scheduling, a subject which has been on my mind quite a bit lately. During my first day at the Magic Kingdom, I was enamored with the idea of an interactive trading card game I had read about in one of my guidebooks. Playing meant that we needed to move from one game “portal” to another in the park to complete the game. It sounded like a really cool idea to me, and I did not want to let go of the idea of carrying through with the game to the finish. Unfortunately, this meant that my family and I were just rushing from one position to another in the park as I looked for the next “portal” to continue the game. My parents had to step in and explain to me that I was missing out on the activities I had originally chosen to do because I was not taking in the rest of the park’s attractions by just doing this one activity. My parents also explained that we could play the card game the next time we head to Disney after we have experienced more of the overall attractions, which helped me to break away from it. So, we decided to get back on track and participate in the rides and shows I had initially selected. Even though a bit of time was lost, I had much more fun this way and made many lasting memories. 

One last important concept I took away from my time at Disney World was a greater sense of personal responsibility toward the earth. Our second day was spent at Epcot, specifically the “Future World” section of the park dominated by Spaceship Earth (that giant golf ball you always see in the TV commercials). The attractions that impressed me the most focused on making the world a better place for all creatures. A portion of the park doubles as an experimental farm in which all manner of plants are grown, an ongoing effort to improve the world’s food supplies. Several of the attractions also carry the message that the most effective changes and most rewarding experiences come about when one uses their own imagination to the fullest to make the world better. That is a philosophy I live by already, but I was glad to see it affirmed so strongly. I plan on continuing to do my best to be responsible for myself and the world around me.

Disney World is a place of dreams, inspiration, and laughter. I found all three in abundance and I am glad I was able to share them with my family. It was beyond what I thought it would be and offered many surprises I had not expected. I had a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and I want to do it again!

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Disney trip

How wonderful for you Ben!! your determination to reach for the stars is a beautiful Accomplishment ! !!! Keep up the hard work !


Fun in Florida

Hi Ben!  I enjoyed reading your column about your vacation trip to Florida with your Mom & Dad.  I'm so glad you had a fun time and were able to cope with the large crowds. I prefer to go to amusement parks when they are less crowded, too.  I have not yet visited Disney World, but Uncle Mack & I plan to do so within the next 2 years.  And I'm glad that you enjoyed your visit with Uncle John. I'm sure it made the holiday season extra special for you!  Love, Aunt Patti


Thanks for Sharing

Hi Ben - Thanks for writing about your vacation in Florida.  It is wonderful to hear how you are now able to tolerate the large crowds.  I am a grandmother, not on the Autism Spectrum, but....I have a difficult time in crowds!  I used to have panic attacks when feeling trapped.  Thankfully, I haven't had these for many years..but, it can be a problem for many of us.  Have a Merry Christmas!

About Crowds

Thanks for reading my column! Being in crowds is still not my favorite place to be, but I am able to handle it better these days. I am glad that you are able to handle it better for yourself as well.  We both know how hard it can be, but I know that I will have to continue tolerating crowds if I am going to be able to enjoy events and occasions when I am out and about.  Thanks again for reading, and have a happy holiday season!  


Disney Life Lessons

Well said! This is the best article of yours I have read so far. It touches on subjects that are common to those of us living in the autism world, and it was very succinctly said.


Thanks for the kind words!  I realize how much my autism shapes my life, but as I have gotten older, I feel like I understand and cope better and better when I find myself in situations like I did at Disney.  Also, as an adult, I have found it easier to express how different situations make me feel and am glad that my perspectives can be of help to people on the autism spectrum as well as parents and other caretakers.  Thanks again for reading, and have a happy holiday season!  



I loved the self reflection! We should all take a closer look at how we react to people and situations. Thank you!Lucienne

Thanks, Lucienne!

Thanks for reading, Lucienne!  I have done a lot of reflection in the past few years concerning my views and interactions with other people and circumstances in my life, more than I have ever done before.  I am taking a lot of what I have learned about myself and others to heart and using it to improve where I can and should.  It has proven remarkably helpful so far, and I will keep it up.  Thanks again for reading, and have a Merry Christmas!  


Keep up the good work!

Excellent piece Ben! Keep on writing. It helps me gain some insight into my non-verbal son's world. Alexia

Hi Alexia!

Thanks for reading my column, Alexia!  I am glad to be able to help you understand your son better.  I could never be certain if my view of things is the same or even close to the way your son might experience life, but I hope my writing has given you some idea of what that may be like.  Thanks for the kind words.