Kaitlyn turned 5 this week, and we let her choose what she wanted to do for her birthday. Way back in March, she knew she wanted to go to Sea World and to Hollywood Studios for her birthday, so that is what we did. We went to Central Florida in June to walk amongst thousands of people in stifling heat an humidity…and we had a great time. More importantly, Kaitlyn had a great time.
Sea World was our first destination, and since she had not been there before, Kaitlyn had really studied the map and knew where she wanted to go first. She wanted to ride the “Shamu Express.” We got to the park shortly after it opened at 9am, and first took care of checking in with Guest Services to let them know about Kaitlyn’s Asperger’s; Sea World provides accomodations to those on the autism spectrum. Kaitlyn was fine with us heading there first, but insisted we head to ride the “Shamu Express” immediately after. So we did just that and attempted to navigate what might be the worst laid out theme park ever. One big problem reared its head right away…for some reason, the kid’s area did not open until 10am. We wondered why they would make kids wait, knowing that most would probably be excited to ride rides designed just for them. Kaitlyn was not happy about having to wait. Once it opened, we headed straight for the “Express,” which is a kid-sized roller coaster. Kaitlyn loved it, and we rode it twice in a row. She also spotted the huge net-climb they have, and insisted on going all the way to the top. Of course, you know who (me!) climbed with her up nets and through tunnels until we were both covered in sweat.
Sea World went wonderfully for the entire day, with only a few minor hiccups. Kaitlyn enjoyed the Shamu show, the seal and otter show, and the dolphin show. She really enjoyed watching the dolphins swim from the underwater viewing area (and even named one Archie), she was disappointed she could not pet a dolphin at the feeding and petting area, so we headed over to the area where you could feal the seals, thinking she would enjoy that. She was all excited about tossing fish to the seals until the birds swarmed and scared her, causing a minor meltodwn that left me emptying the fish tray for the seals. We then went to the Manatee Rescue attraction, which disappointed Kaitlyn greatly because she did not get to rescue a manatee herself.
Our destination on day two of Kaitlyn’s special birthday was Hollywood Studios. Kaitlyn was more than happy to give me the directions to ensure that I made it onto Disney property correctly, and took the right turns to get to Hollywood Studios. The first thing we saw was Disney Junior Live on Stage, featuring Kaitlyn’s new favorite show, “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” She concentrated hard on the story and helped throw Minnie a surprise party. After the show, we were first in line to get her picture taken with Handy Manny, and she was one of the first to get her picture with Leo from the Little Einsteins. But those two characters were not enough, and we had to make sure to go back a few times so she could get a picture with all 4 of the Little Einsteins. Once that mission was accomplished, it was off to meet more characters. We were able to get right in (for Disney) to see both Mickey and Pooh. From there, it was ride time, and we headed for the Backlot Tour ride. Almost from the word “action,” Kaitlyn was not a fan; she had a minor meltdown after the first controlled explosion or two, with a major meltdown coming soon. If you have never been on the ride, one of the features is the tram going “on set” where a tractor-trailer is in a valley, and then they create some effects….effects like explosions and floods. Well, the explosions were cause for a meltdown and Kaitlyn could not get far enough away from the “set.” After walking around and getting some lunch, my parents, who were enjoying the week with us, went over to the stunt show. Kaitlyn wanted nothing to do with getting anywhere close to the stunt show because of her experience on the backlot tour. Meltdown averted…for now. There was another meltdown on “The Great Movie Ride” when there were some simulated gun shots.
Amber and I talked a lot about the two meltdowns at Hollywood Studios, and are convinced they were complete meltdowns and not just a case of being scared of the loud noises. The explosions and fire, etc. shook her up pretty bad. Make no mistake about it, the meltdowns were just a minor bump in the road for the week, and Kaitlyn enjoyed herself plenty at Hollywood Studios.
This week was a real good test of how far we have come as a family since Kaitlyn’s diagnosis. There is still some frustration that we cannot seem to get through to her sometimes when things are not as she planned, but there was so much success in allowing her to determine the sequence of events. Amber and I have made a lot of progress in enhancing Kaitlyn’s experiences; we understand that a different approach is needed sometimes, and that we have to be flexible and patient (two things I struggle with..more on that another time) with her. We were happy to have witnesses to Kaitlyn’s intelligence as well. As we were driving around, I heard, on multiple occasions, fascination with her ability to read signs and point us in the right direction. Not only did Kaitlyn continue educating Amber and I this weekend, I am fairly certain she provided an education to my parents as well.