We took the kids to Six Flags Great America this week, because they both had tickets from the Reading program at school. I wasn't sure how it would go. I mean, crowds, heat, lines, high intensity rides, exhaustion, endless walking--doesn't really seem like a recipe for a good time where my kids are concerned. Or for me either, for that matter. But they were excited, and Daddy and I were committed, so off we went.
I was told to get the Special Needs pass for Munchkin. I debated whether we'd really need it. I mean, how long could the lines for the kiddy rides be? Surely he could handle them? I don't know what I was thinking. Thank goodness the voice of reason (my hubby) spoke up and said to get it. It was, quite literally, what made our day so enjoyable.
So, how does it work, you ask. He got a pass with his name on it, and the number of people in his party written on it. So when he wanted to get on a ride, we walked up to the exit instead of standing in line. For the busier rides (the coasters mostly), they wrote in a return time based on the wait time for those standing in line. So if the wait time was one hour, we still had to wait one hour to ride. But we were free to leave and come back at our assigned time. For the kiddy rides, though, they put us on within one or two rides after walking up to the exit.
At first, I felt guilty using it. I mean, we were skipping the 20 minute wait for the bumper cars or the spinning ride. We were getting on when all these little kids were waiting in the line still. We were going ahead of kids who had been waiting patiently. I felt bad. I thought, "Everyone's looking at us wondering which one of us has something wrong with us." Especially since no one can tell that Munchkin has any kind of disability when looking at him. Or, as we waited with people in wheelchairs, or a little blind boy on one ride, or the child with the "obvious" autism, I felt like an impostor. But after awhile, I quit caring what anyone thought. I mean, by waiting at the exit, Munchkin was able to spin in circles and race up and down the exit ramp, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with other people in lines. He was able to cover his ears when the horn blew to start the ride without anyone looking at him funny. He could watch the ride a few times before deciding to ride it, without any pressure to hurry up and get on. And for the bigger rides, we could walk around, get a snack, ride something else, or people watch in the shade while we waited for an hour for the ride. Sure beats standing packed into lines, sweating and smelling other people's sweat, hearing everyone else's conversations, watching the teeny-boppers make out in line.
(I enjoyed it too, can you tell? In fact, my hubby commented that he doesn't know how he can ever go to Great America with the high school youth group again, if it means he has to wait in lines! Yeah, we all benefited from the pass...)
Not only that, but had he been required to stand in a line for even 20 minutes, we would have been exhausted from holding on to him for that time, so that he didn't hit anyone, run off, or just bump into everyone. He would have had a serious meltdown by the second or third ride, and we would have had to leave, or take turns holding him while the other parent took Squirrel on the rides. He, and we, would have been miserable.
We decided not to get a pass for Squirrel. I'm not sure we made the right call. When she and I went on a roller coaster that Munchkin was too small for, we had to wait in line for 75 minutes. She kept asking why we couldn't use the pass. I told her it was because she didn't have trouble being in lines like Munchkin. She doesn't get overheated as easily as him, she doesn't have meltdowns when she's overwhelmed by other people, and she's able to be still where he is not. But I'm not sure I made the right call. Because she does have trouble with crowds--she gets agitated when people get too close to her--so the line we waited in was torture for her. She chewed her clothes (which she only does when she's stressed) and left big gaps between her and the person in front of her so she could have some space. She stood on the bars between the aisles because it made her feel less crowded if she could see over the adults around her. Towards the end of the wait, she curled up in a ball and started picking at the dirt on the ground--which she also does when she's stressed. She refused to talk to me after about 30 minutes in line--she needed to reserve her energy to deal with the negative sensory input on her body. It was obviously very stressful for her. She was fine once we got on the ride, so it didn't ruin her day. But she did choose not to ride anything else that Munchkin couldn't ride, so that she wouldn't have to wait in line.
All in all, we had an awesome day. Both kids rode their first roller coasters, including the Demon, which has loops and corkscrew turns and is really fast. (Remember what I said about Fearless? Yeah, once again, my kids proved it!) They loved it and can't wait to go back next year. And we all enjoyed the family time and a really great day, thanks to that pass! Without it, we wouldn't have made it more than an hour or two. Maybe when they get older, we won't need the pass. But if we do, we'll use it without caring what anyone thinks.
Just one more little side observation: Hubby commented on how they gave us a pass without asking any questions. They didn't ask why we needed it, or what accommodations we would need...they just wrote Munchkins name on it and explained how to use it. We decided that this was probably because there is no politically correct way to ask, "What's your disability?" But I think it's also because the park realizes what many people don't--that not all disabilities are something you can see. They gave us a guide to the park that was really cool--it broke down each ride by not only physical limitations, but also emotional/psychological ones--fear of heights, high anxiety, claustrophobia, fear of dark, etc. To me, it was a hopeful sign that people are starting to "get it" when it comes to kids with hidden disabilities!