Families of autistic kids sue Disney over queue policy

Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2014 9:01 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Families with autistic children have sued Walt Disney Co, alleging the company does not provide adequate access to theme park visitors with autism who have difficulty waiting in long lines for rides. In October 2013, Disney parks stopped offering autistic visitors a "guest assistance card" that let them and their families bypass lines, and now offers a "disability access service" card to allow them to obtain scheduled return times for park attractions.

Read more from Reuters via The Chicago Tribune.

Thursday, April 10, 2014 1:13 PM

I don't think I'm being dismissive or showing a lack of compassion. I just didn't address my feelings on the matter other than one facet if the total conversation. I'm not even saying that maybe Disney and other parks should or shouldn't go this or that.

But I do find it funny that the exact same argument comes up every year with a different disability/obstacle/etc but this one seems, to me, to be treated differently simply because it has to do with children.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 1:25 PM

It isn't just that it's children that makes it different. I think several people have pointed that out.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 2:34 PM

(winky fun)

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:29 PM

It seems like it's easier for some to be sympathetic to those with a visible disability -- obesity, or lacking one or more limbs, or carrying a white cane with a red tip.

Whereas if a random person looks at me, they see a "regular guy". They can't see the part of my brain that's wired differently.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:34 PM

While that might be true, I'm not seeing anyone in this thread being any less sympathetic to people with autism.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:43 PM

I was thinking about the world at large rather than just the folks in this thread.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:46 PM

I was guilty of it. I thought Autism was something made up to give parents a pass for having kids that weren't taught how to act in public.

Our son Alex changed my thinking. I'm amazed at his beautiful mind because of the things he excels at. His personality gives him the drive to do whatever that interests him to execute it perfectly. Unfortunately, when it doesn't go the way he expects it, that's when we see a meltdown. There's other sensory issues that go with it too but really don't feel like elaborating.

Edit: Mind you, we have two other boys that do not act like Alex. So for us there is a huge difference and we can see it. In Jeff's case, Simon is an only child, so how do you compare his progress? Jeff, I think you have it harder than I do.

I don't ask or expect much from people anymore. A lot of minds have already been made up regarding Autism, especially when the person who has it looks totally normal. We are fortunate in our case that Alex is higher functioning, but we've been told "he doesn't look Autistic" or "he'll grow out of it right?" It doesn't work that way. It's the way he's wired, we can only hope that he can learn to cope and diffuse the situations that cause the meltdowns. In the meantime we try to prevent it. Some days are better than others, and other days are horribly bad. But I wouldn't trade it for anything else. The kid is amazing and continues to amaze me everyday.

So for those who have made up their minds and don't have much sympathy for us, your loss.

~Rob

Last edited by HeyIsntThatRob?, Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:48 PM
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Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:55 PM

Yes. After I was diagnosed and learned more about the autism formerly known as Asperger's, I'd tell people I had that diagnosis and they would react with doubt.

Once I told them a few details about me (as a child, one of my favorite storybooks before I learned to read were the S&H Green Stamp catalogues, which I would memorize; in my early teens I was obsessed with how network TV schedules were put together), they'd come around.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 4:22 PM

Rob: As a general category of developmental delay, it's easy enough to see Simon is behind by looking at his peers. Again, I guess we're "lucky" because his issues aren't as serious as others. Our most important metric is simply seeing if he'll be ready for kindergarten in time, and at this point, it could go either way. I'm encouraged by his progress, but realistic that he might not make it. They're all confident that he'll be able to adapt by his late grade school years, but we'll see.

I absolutely hate the, "He seems normal to me," thing. My own family does it. I mean, come on, the kid is 4 and can't draw a circle. People with a lot more expertise can identify his issues and prescribe the right therapy.

The more I learn about ASD, the more I wonder if I would have been diagnosed myself in school. I see so much of me in my own kid. I see things in my own personality that others would attribute to rebellion or being a non-conformist that are really just things I don't process like others.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 5:12 PM

I have wondered about the possibility of Aspergers for myself as well, as I find myself fixated on certain obsessions for months or even years at a time, I have serious tactile and food texture issues, and I freak out if someone invaded my personal space or I'm in a crowd where people are bumping up against me. I've never had a lot of friends, and I totally miss social cues and have trouble reading people A LOT. I DO realize it could be a lot of other things as well, but I have been concerned about it at times. In my case, I'm probably just weird (not that Aspergers is weird and that it is difficult to tell a "weird" person from someone with an autism spectrum disorder).

Just a sidenote: I think it does a grave disservice to people with these disorders to lump all the autism and related disorders into one category. If more specific information to further classify and treat a disorder is available, why not organize it down into smaller more understandable "bites".

I don't understand autism very well, but I really would like to. I have a nephew with very mild autism and a dear friend who has a son with autism of a more moderate to severe nature. Every word he speaks is a celebration to hear. It is nearly impossible to wrap my brain around what he is going through and what is going on inside his mind every day. I DO know certain things set him off very badly, although these things change as he grows and works on routines and socialization and everything else. I am going to ask a question that is in no means meant to be snarky or nasty; I am really asking out of total curiosity and lack of knowledge, but it kinda relates to the topic:

If kids with a disorder on this spectrum can't handle waiting in lines because of the stimulus or sensory overload, wouldn't riding all those rides be sensory overload for them as well? Even on a tame Disney ride, there's so much to take in. What makes an actual ride a "good" experience for them but a line waiting for the ride a "bad" experience? Does anyone know this? I mean besides that rides are awesome and lines suck...actually, this might have answered my own question. Because of the different way an autistic person processes things, are these queue-antagonized meltdowns because the brain is saying in a different way "hey, this sucks"? Am I getting it right?

In any case, I don't think Disney's done anything wrong here. They make every reasonable effort to accommodate people, and they usually do MORE than most parks to provide a great experience for as many guests as humanly possible. Not everyone can do everything, but Disney tries their damnedest to make sure everyone is treated fairly and thoughtfully. The lawsuit is BS.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 5:23 PM

bunky666 said:

I think it does a grave disservice to people with these disorders to lump all the autism and related disorders into one category.

It's my understanding that several disorders, including Asperger's, were 'lumped' together into a broad Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis in part to recognize the issues of parents with children with those various disorders.

School systems often provide services to children with an autism diagnosis, but parents of children with an Asperger's diagnosis were not able to take advantage of those services.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 5:29 PM

Jeff said:

The more I learn about ASD, the more I wonder if I would have been diagnosed myself in school. I see so much of me in my own kid. I see things in my own personality that others would attribute to rebellion or being a non-conformist that are really just things I don't process like others.

Me too. There are many traits that I share with Alex that I've just learned to deal with as I grew up. My family laughs because they remember me being the same way as Alex is now.

~Rob

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 7:59 PM

Slither, you hit the nail on the head. That said, conferences on this issue became literal shouting matches over this issue the past 7 years. I, for one, applauded the move for exactly the reason that you pointed out, but also because it's part of a shift in how we diagnose mental illnesses and disorders in the first place. It's broadly called an IEP (individualized education program), and schools consistently fight against making these programs more accessible. It means they have to give a child (god forbid) special one on one attention to help that kid accelerate like everyone else. And for the most part, they are highly effective, but they do cost $$.

For the longest time, professionals have relied on a basic categorical diagnostic model as opposed to a dimensional one...as long as you worked in the United States. Elsewhere, it's long been believed and practiced that nearly every diagnosis comes in a spectrum...a viewpoint I happen to agree with...and this was really a big step in that direction. Real patients and clients in the real world at a real practice often do not meet the exact "criteria" to be diagnosed, and this problem has festered for decades. It may sound like a non-issue to some, but when it's tied to insurance paying for something or not, it becomes a very important issue for the person who actually needs help/therapy.

And now in the news we hear about autism rates going up at an alarming rate, and the crazy vaccine nutjobs of the world think this is evidence that they have been correct all along, when the vast majoroty of this increase is the new spectrum (which included more than just Asperger's) as well as greater awareness.

Heck, we can now identify very early signs of Autism as early as 6 months in some cases.

I think nearly all of us agree the lawsuit is frivolous. I think we also nearly all agree that Disney does everything they can. In fact, I thought their recent change would actually be beneficial to a greater number of parents and kids.

It's overly simplistic to toss your hands up in the air and say.."that's reality...maybe you just can't do that". In some cases, that may be true, but I would applaud a place like Disney trying to become innovative, inclusive, and empathetic in an exhaustive fashion to make every effort to try and do all they can. And I would also applaud the effort of people with disabilities, issues, and problems that try to push the world in a direction that makes it more accessible for them. Does it feel like an effort to become an "everything for everyone" society at times? Yep. I suppose sometimes it does.

Last edited by OhioStater, Thursday, April 10, 2014 8:52 PM
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Thursday, April 10, 2014 8:46 PM

Lumping everything under ASD also helps with the "regional epidemic" problem. It appeared certain flavors of autism were more common in certain places. In reality, it was just therapists were diagnosing the thing that a state, county or school district provided services for. Some states have mandated insurance coverage too.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 9:46 PM

OhioStater said:

It's broadly called an IEP (individualized education program), and schools consistently fight against making these programs more accessible. It means they have to give a child (god forbid) special one on one attention to help that kid accelerate like everyone else. And for the most part, they are highly effective, but they do cost $$.

Depending on the child's location on the spectrum they may also qualify for a 504 plan. There has been a push in education for more inclusion of students with ASD(a good thing). I have learned a great deal about ASD in the last few years as more "high function" ASD kids are included in the general education setting. I think it has helped my other students get a better understanding of ASD.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:20 PM

OhioStater said:

It's overly simplistic to toss your hands up in the air and say.."that's reality...maybe you just can't do that".

So we're on the same page.

Lord Gonchar said:

I'm not sure I can make it any more oversimplified and broad than "Everyone can't do everything"

And that's kind of my point. At it's most basic everyone can't do everything. One you realize that simple truth, anything beyond that is a step forward. Extra.

People like those suing Disney, don't seem to see it that way.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:55 PM

Ok, that actually makes a lot of sense if schools and other programs are being better funded if an "umbrella diagnosis" is made that includes more ranges in the spectrum. I was thinking that with the specificity that medical documentation requires anymore that it would help to have more specificity in diagnoses. You learn something new every day.

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Friday, April 11, 2014 3:35 AM

Side post. You all might remember my little buddy J.D. Years ago I wrote a few trip reports about amusement park visits with him. I only learned a few years ago that he has Asburger's. I knew he was different all these years, but I never really had a name for it until he told me. I met him when he was 7. He's now 20 and has already achieved so much in his life so far. He's regularly on the Deans list at his community college, which makes everyone in his life so proud of him, and he still has time to volunteer for Special Olympics and race RC cars semi-professionally, among many other activities.

Knowing what challenges he has faced over the years, and how well he has overcome them makes him a hero to me and a lot of other people who know him. His parents were told that he would not make it through school, and would probably never hold down a job. Being told at a young age that he can't do something made him determined to do it even better than someone without disabilities. He has always had such a good attitude about everything. His parents have done everything right.

I still visit him sometimes up in PA, and we go on amusement park trips together. It's not as often as I would like, but it's always nice to get to hang out with him. He is one of the coolest people I know because of how he treats his own disability. He's so friendly and everyone who meets him either feels uncomfortable with him and ignores him or gives him their curious attention and eventually realizes how awesome he is. Meeting him would tell you a lot about yourself.

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Friday, April 11, 2014 10:11 AM

bunky666 said:

If kids with a disorder on this spectrum can't handle waiting in lines because of the stimulus or sensory overload, wouldn't riding all those rides be sensory overload for them as well? Even on a tame Disney ride, there's so much to take in. What makes an actual ride a "good" experience for them but a line waiting for the ride a "bad" experience? Does anyone know this? I mean besides that rides are awesome and lines suck...actually, this might have answered my own question. Because of the different way an autistic person processes things, are these queue-antagonized meltdowns because the brain is saying in a different way "hey, this sucks"? Am I getting it right?

(As someone who teaches in a school for kids with high functioning autism, among other differences) The problem in most cases isn't the sensory overload. It's lack of social understanding. For a kid with autism, lines just don't make sense anymore than if someone told you to do jumping jacks on the way to a roller coaster. It's very hard/borderline impossible in some cases for autistic children (people?) to understand there are other people who also have feelings.

Many of my students excel at academic pursuits but have trouble with basic social practices - looking someone in the eye when talking to them is the most notable, but other things like not copying the answers out of the back of the book when I just caught him literally 30 seconds ago. There's also a lot of self doubt piled on top from years of schools that didn't diagnose or couldn't handle these students.

Last edited by ApolloAndy, Friday, April 11, 2014 10:15 AM
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Friday, April 11, 2014 5:00 PM

Thank you for the explanation. It makes much more sense to me now.

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