A Christmas Carol… Wautlet Style

My wife and I are the parents of two wonderful boys, both of whom are profoundly autistic. Being far from typical we still did our best to try and function like any normal family during the holiday season. The only problem was the boys didn’t get any of it. They had no interest or apparent understanding of the meaning of Thanksgiving or Christmas. Halloween was fairly easy, except I had to convince my oldest,M.C., that he could not go inside of every house, he shouldn’t eat his candy the minute he got it, and that he wasn’t allowed to go back to those houses to get candy the next night. Andrew was another story. I took him into a haunted house. Once inside a ghoul or some such leapt at him at let out a hideous shriek. Andrew responded by giving  him a long hard stare in return. The guy inside the costume just recoiled. When we came out my wife asked if he got scared and I had to inform her that only person scaring people in that attraction was our son.

We finally quit trying to fit the norm and decided we would forge our own holiday tradition. We would journey to the happiest place on earth and create our own Christmas memories by going to Disney World every year. Of course given our circumstances those trips were memorable for reasons that other families might not appreciate. I first wrote about this on my Facebook page under the notes section but thought I would go ahead and offer it to a wider audience. The following are some of the more memorable experiences my wife and I had with our sons during our Christmas trips to see Mickey.

Andrew does a contortionist back bend at MGM Studios. When he finishes we notice that a large crowd had gathered to watch.

We had just left the Country Bear Jamboree and we were both struggling to get Andrew into his stroller. When we look up M.C. is gone. A Disney Cast Member brings him back out of the same show. Apparently he was trying to get on stage.

I lose Andrew in a Magic Kingdom gift shop while I was trying a shirt on M.C. I find him one room over trying to shoplift ten bags of candy.

Mom buys all of us sweat shirts as it was cold one morning. It warmed up later in the day. Andrew insisted on going back to the same gift shop we had been at earlier that morning. Once inside he took off his sweat shirt and dropped it on the floor.

During one stay at the Dolphin Andrew emptied out the servi-bar all four nights.

We stop at a KFC in the Florida panhandle one night to get a quick dinner. M.C. was agitated and forced everyone to eat quickly. Once back in the van he stared at me and said “Mi Mi Mouse!” He then repeated it over and over again for the next three hours. I had to say yes every time or he would squeeze my face with his hands until I did.

Andrew tries to walk head first into everyone in the park. Every park. Every year. Every time.

M.C. uncrosses the legs of two different women. One on the monorail and the other on the ferry boat.

On one trip Andrew existed for four days on a diet of eggs, grits, french fries, and coke.

Everytime either boy got wet from a water ride they tried to strip off their clothes immediately. We eventually solved this by packing lots of ponchos but in the early years we spent a lot of money on clothes at the resorts.

One year we had my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law with us. We bought tickets to the Hoop De Doo Review. During the show M.C. got sick and threw up on everything and everyone. As we snuck out a side door I threw a $100 bill on the table as I knew someone was going to quit their job that night.

Three years later we return to the same Hoop De Doo Review. This time we are seated next to the stage. Unlike my oldest son, Andrew is no fan of country music. During the show he sits with his arms folded across his chest and a look of contempt on his face. Finally he stands abruptly and throws his napkin forecfully onto the table. All the dancers are performing now with distressed looks on their faces.

Andrew insists that I ride It’s a Small World with him approximately ten times in a row. Unles you have ridden it once no words can describe the mental torture I endured that evening.

While on the Carousel of Progress Andrew gets upset. While trying to calm him he head butts me in my face. As we are leaving a young couple tells me that I’m bleeding. I tell them the Carousel of Progress is a rough ride.

Andrew is noise sensitive but loves the Mummy’s Tomb ride. He holds his hands over his ears and I brace him with my right arm. On one occasion an attendant asks him if he is scared. I tell her he is autistic, non-verbal, noise senstive, but he loves the ride, and that he dragged me in here. Apparently that wasn’t good enough for her so she continues to ask him if he is afraid. Finally he jutted his lower jaw out. If you know Andrew that means it’s about to get nasty.  At that point diplomacy failed me and I uttered something along these lines. ” HE IS NOT SCARED! HE LOVES THIS @%$&*#@ RIDE AND IF YOU DON’T START IT SOON HE IS GOING TO GET PISSED AND EVERYONE IN HERE WILL WISH THEY WERE SOMEWHERE ELSE! Magically the ride started.

During all those trips we never saw a parade from beginning to end, only saw a few of the shows in their entirety, or had a leisurely dining experience. There were behaviors, late night card rides, struggles to feed them nutritiously, and constant fatigue. But we were together and we always said the next trip would be better because we would learn what we could and could not do.

The boys are older now, and so are we. At ages 20 and 18 even though they are still child like Disney is no longer a big deal to them. So this year we didn’t go. Instead we had Christmas at their Group Home and went to Mass with them at their chapel. I’m not sure what future holidays will bring but I know that for me being with them makes anyplace we are the happiest place on earth!

About Merrill Wautlet

I am a finance professional and volunteer coach. I have also served in a leadership role for numerous non-profit and civic organizations. For a complete profile feel free to check me out on Linkedin.
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