Ben with his arms around Chip and Dale and a HUGE smile on his face!

Ben loves Disney. Not just the movies, but the music, history, characters and the parks. Ben is a 20 year old man on the Autism Spectrum. Every time we come to Disney (yes, we visit Disney Parks often) he makes leaps in his social skills. Some leaps are big, others smaller, but progress is made.

I speak often about how important I believe vacations are for families. Traveling together forces families to spend time together creating memories that bond siblings into adulthood. This was my biggest goal in writing Mouse Ears for Everyone: A Guide to Walt Disney World for Guests with Special Needs . I want to make vacationing easier for families that have extra challenges traveling. What I don’t share quite as often is how much our vacations help Ben grow. He has learned to be more patient and step out of his comfort zone. One trip he stood up and introduced the “movie under the stars” to a group of strangers at Disney’s Caribbean Resort.

In this picture Ben’s arms are still at his side- we were able to convince him to put his arms around them.

In the summer of 2017 Ben’s progress was a BIG deal!

For Easter Ben’s grandparents gave him a t-shirt with Chip and Dale on it. A few weeks later while we were planning our vacation he decided he wanted to show his new shirt to Chip and Dale. Fast forward to the morning we are going to the Magic Kingdom. Ben is wearing his shirt, and we are waiting on Main Street USA for Chip and Dale to arrive. While we waited in a short line he just kept giggling in anticipation of the chipmunks’ reaction to his shirt. He was not disappointed! Chip and Dale immediately reacted to the shirt, then they had a “non-verbal” argument about which one of them Ben likes best. They were pulling him like tug of war. He was laughing and talking to them, and then it happened- he hugged them! Ben doesn’t like hugs, he’ll give fist bumps and high fives, but that is as physically affectionate as he typically gets. He was so happy and comfortable with Chip and Dale that he hugged them. Thankfully he has given a couple of select hugs since we’ve been home- progress.

I can often be seen with tears in my eyes at Disney, just walking down Main Street USA will make me misty. This time I was in a full blown ugly cry all the way to Space Mountain. I was just so happy that his plan came together so well, that he was laughing and HUGGING two of his favorite characters. This is what our vacations are all about- in this moment, Ben was happy, we were all happy and my husband and daughter were laughing at me because I was not able to stop crying. Instantly a memory was made. This is Disney Magic!

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