Making Magic Happen

Disney, Disney World, Anxiety and Travel, OCD and Travel, Child with OCD and Travel, Mental Illness, Children with Mental Illness and Travel, Vacation Anxiety, Travel Anxiety, Child Anxiety, Disability Access Service, DAS, Disney Disability Pass, Disney Disability Support Services, The Everyday Journalista, Everyday Journalista

We have just returned from a trip of a lifetime to Disney World in Orlando. A few short years ago this trip would have been impossible for us. With a child who has multiple anxiety disorders as well as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) I thought that a trip of this distance (we live in British Columbia, Canada) and magnitude would simply be too much.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of how far my son has come in these past two years. He has put in an immeasurable amount of work in his constant battle against anxiety and OCD. Disney Parks have also done an amazing job of providing support and tools for those with a variety of needs and disabilities. In this post I hope to share with you what I did to prepare for our trip and how Disney Parks support and systems helped make our time at Disney World truly magical.

 

A trip to Disney World, in my opinion, is not something to be done spontaneously. The more you plan the more you can get out of your visit. For us this trip was a year in the making.

PLANNING AHEAD:

A few months prior to our visit I really started to research our visit and what it was going to look like. In our case we were going to be in Orlando for a full 7 days. Considering the distance we were traveling and some of the other things we wanted to see and do while in Orlando (another post coming on that soon), as well as our experience at Disneyland last year, I thought that we would be able to do and see everything we wanted over a four-day period. To save a little money we decided not to purchase the park hopper, which allows you to visit multiple parks each day. We also took advantage of the Canadian Residence Special that Disney is currently offering.

We planned to spend one day at each of the 4 parks: Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. We visited one park each day and made the most of the full day at each location. For us it worked out amazingly and I would highly recommend this if you’re looking at ways to save. In my opinion it had no negative impact on our experience.

Next I started searching Disney World crowd calendars for the 4 days we would be in the area. This is a really helpful tool for figuring out what days may be the best for you to visit. I used Kenny The Pirate and found it to be really helpful.

ONCE YOU ARRIVE:

The first thing I did when we got into Orlando was to download the My Disney Experience app. Now keep in mind that you are able to book a FastPass+ up to 30 days ahead of your visit, but we did visit during a relatively quiet time of the year (January), and we had decided not book any character dining or other specific experiences as we had done that in Disneyland previously. If those are things that are a priority for you I would highly recommend booking those as far in advance as possible. For more information on FastPass+ click here.

DISABILITY ACCESS SERVICE (DAS):

I knew that this was something I wanted to look into getting for my son. Disney parks go above and beyond when it comes to helping those with special needs. I’m not just talking about those with physical disabilities (although they offer services for those people as well). I’m talking about a huge range of needs, including those with cognitive disabilities and mental illness. Without the support and services available with the DAS we would not have been able to experience Disney World. Disney really does an amazing job at making their parks magical and accessible for all children.

Wdwprepschool.com defines those who maybe eligible for the DAS as “anyone who has a disability or condition that necessitates waiting outside a traditional line environment”.

It is a bit of a process to get the pass set up but once that’s done you’re good to go at any of the 4 Disney parks. We knew this going in so we made sure we were at the park (we did Animal Kingdom on our first day) right when it opened in order to get everything set up.

 

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As I mentioned above we had pre-purchased our tickets so once we got through security we headed straight for Guest Relations. The amazing cast member who helped us was able to set up our park cards as well as the disability pass for my son (A very grateful shout-out to Amy-Lou at Guest Relations Animal Kingdom). She let me know about break areas in the case of over stimulation and provided me with a document called Attraction Details for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities.

 

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This invaluable tool goes through every attraction at each of the four parks identifying details that could be possible triggers (loud noises, smells, and elements of surprise, to name a few). It also includes information on ride duration and restraint type. I can’t express how helpful this was. I was able to use this tool, not only to help me select which rides were appropriate for my son, but also to help prepare him for those rides we selected. Not knowing what’s coming can be debilitating for him so letting him know that Star Tours – The Adventure continues has periods of darkness, 3D effects, and lasts 7 minutes was really effective in helping him prepare for what was to come.

DURING THE TRIP:

Every evening once we returned to our hotel and I got the kids to bed I spent some time planning our next day. I would review a park map for the park we were going to visit (I printed these prior to our trip), I looked through the Attraction Details Handbook and made a list of what we wanted to accomplish for the day. I would then book our FastPass+ and lay out a plan for what we would do around our FastPass+ times. I tried to plan our day to cover the rides around our FastPass+ times so we weren’t walking across the entire park for a FastPass+ ride time.

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With the DAS we were also able to get Return Times for rides. In order to obtain a Return Time for a ride at Disney World you must go to the FastPass+ entrance of the ride you wish to go on and arrange for a return time. My son’s card would be scanned in order to verify his designation and then we were given a card or verbal time to return within half an hour of the current time. Upon returning we would enter in through the FastPass+ line.

 

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For the most part, this system worked really well for us. A few times we returned to find that the FastPass+ line was really long. In these cases we chose to return later. This and the fact that you have to return at all can be an issue for some children.

In Disneyland they have designated areas you can go to get return times that are separate from the ride. This makes things a lot easier for those children who have a tough time leaving a ride without riding it and having to return later. For us, either my husband or myself would go and get the Return Time while the other kept the kids busy with some of the million other things there are to see and do at Disney World.

 

Disney, Disney World, Anxiety and Travel, OCD and Travel, Child with OCD and Travel, Mental Illness, Children with Mental Illness and Travel, Vacation Anxiety, Travel Anxiety, Child Anxiety, Disability Access Service, DAS, Disney Disability Pass, Disney Disability Support Services, The Everyday Journalista, Everyday Journalista

 

So that’s what I did to plan before and during our trip to Disney World. If you have a child who struggles with a disability, be it physical or mental, I hope you will find this helpful in some way.

I’m planning a series of photo focused mini posts, one on each park that we visited highlighting our experience. So please keep an eye for that.

 

ONE MORE THING

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about mental illness. It’s a conversation that is long over due on a topic that affects a staggering amount of people on some level or another. As excited as I am about initiatives like #bellletstalk, change is slow and despite our best efforts there still exists a huge amount of stigma and misunderstanding when it comes to mental illness.

For those who struggle with OCD they may often be faced with the mainstream use of the term OCD. If you know someone who truly struggles with OCD you know that every thought and action can be a battle. What can be harder is that those who struggle with disorders like anxiety and OCD look just like you and me. Their war goes on inside, often in secret.

My point in all of this is that when you visit a Disney Park they get it! Whether you are limited physically or mentally they are there to support you and your children. Disney has allowed my family to have experiences and make lifelong memories, which without a doubt we would not have been able to make without the support and systems they have in place.

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Anxiety- The Ripple Effect

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I write a lot about anxiety on this blog, specifically the generalized and separation anxiety that my son suffers from. What I have not really touched on is how this anxiety has affected the other members of our family and our family as a whole.

As heart breaking as it is to watch my son struggle with the constant bullying from his anxiety he is certainly not the only one in our home affected by it. The ripple effect of his worries impacts each person in our family differently as well as our family as a unit.

One thing I have learned over the course of dealing with anxiety and its associates (depression & OCD) is that they are extremely tricky and do whatever they can to sneak in and take over not only the sufferer’s life but also the lives of those around them.

As the parent of a child with anxiety I will often catch myself accommodating anxiety. It’s so easy to do and it often starts out as just a little thing here or there. Next thing you know you find yourself doing some ridiculous accommodation in an attempt to keep anxiety at bay, when the truth is, that is the exact thing that makes it stronger.

There were periods of time in the beginning when our family could not travel because of the impact it would have on my son. Anxiety had our family living in fear and it was running the show. I thought that we were trapped and that we would not be able to overcome the hold that anxiety had on our lives. I felt powerless and was afraid to fight back, that I would make things worse for my son.

In fact the opposite is true. For both my son and myself, awareness and education have been huge. Just the simple action of calling out anxiety or an anxious behaviour gives it less power. But the biggest thing for me as a mom was learning that pushing back at anxiety by allowing my son into a triggering situation, when done gradually and in cooperation with him, is actually the best way to fight back and beat anxiety. These two things have been huge in allowing my son to get back to being a kid and for our family to enjoy doing things together both at home and away.

It’s a daily effort and as with most things there are many ups and downs. Sometimes we are better at fighting against anxiety and sometimes anxiety starts to get the upper hand. My son truly is my hero. Each day he works so very hard to keep anxiety from creeping into his life so he can be who he is meant to be. I do what I can to try to support those efforts but anxiety in the everyday moments is often a battle he has to fight alone.

Perhaps the one person most impacted by my son’s anxiety is his younger sister. She has been witness to all the worries and questions and fear and appointments and therapies.

Day in and day out she is being exposed to fears and worries that she would never have come up with on her own. I was truly naive to think that she could be immune to such a strong environmental influence. When she started exhibiting signs and symptoms of the same anxieties my son has I right away assumed it was a learned behaviour, quickly dismissed her worries and pushed her to move on.

When things proceeded to get worse I started to think both my children were going to struggle with severe anxiety. Then of course comes the guilt and self blame.

But what I have since realized is that it actually doesn’t matter whether the behaviour is learned or whether there is a chemical imbalance causing the behaviour because the resulting anxiety is the same and so is how you should treat it.

I started with the same processes I went through with my son, although this time I was a little more well equipped. I started calling out her anxious behaviours because, again whether learned or not, the anxious feelings and symptoms she was experiencing were very real. We worked through anxiety help books like What to do when you worry too much’ by Dawn Huebner (a great book by the way!). And finally I just continued to encourage her to push back against the worries as well as gently pushing her away from where her worries wanted her to go. I would say that she turned the corner about three months ago. My daughter is slowly returning to her adventurous, outgoing, and risk-taking self.

I won’t deny that she still has some of her brothers anxieties whispering in her ear, and those have and will effect who she is as a person and how she moves about her world. But I think by facing it rather that trying to dismiss it my daughter and our family are learning to show anxiety who’s boss.

In closing I just want to add that as difficult as illnesses like anxiety are for those who struggle with them they can and do have an enormous impact on those closest to them and on families as a whole. Each person living with someone with a mental illness is dealing with it too on some level and those feelings are real and valid.

Thank you so much for taking the time to check out my blog. I really do appreciate it:)

Please do consider leaving a comment or question if you have one.

 

Until next time …

The Everyday Journalista

Anxiety: 5 Steps to Help Your Child Push Back

Anxiety, Anxiety Disorder, Worrying, Child Anxiety, Push Back Against Anxiety, The Long Exhale, Take a Minute, Rescue Remedy, Bach Rescue Remedy, Fidget toys, Fidget worry tools,

As an adult it may be difficult for us to understand what a child could possibly have to be anxious about. They don’t have a job or a mortgage or any of the responsibilities that we as adults have to balance. While this may be true child anxiety is a very real thing and something that plagues as many as 1 in 4 children.

Being a parent of a child with anxiety I know first hand how debilitating it can be and the impact it can have on other children in the house and the family unit as a whole.

Nail biting, lip chewing, shirt chewing, paper tearing, pencil biting these are just a few of the more subtle outward signs you may see in a child with anxiety. But the more serious and often more concerning signs are often the ones you don’t see.

These are the signs of the ‘Internalizer’. All appears fine for the most part on the surface but underneath, inside they are being pushed around by the bully that is anxiety.

Anxiety comes is many forms and is a friend to many other bullies; separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, performance anxiety, depression, and OCD just to name a few.

These silent enemies threaten to replace fun with fear, adventure with dread and curiosity with doubt. I have seen it physically attack my son with hives, stomach-aches, bed-wetting, and endless tears. I have also seen it attack his spirit creating fear, uncertainty, doubt, and sadness.

So many children and their families think they must suffer with these common mental illnesses or that they aren’t serious enough to warrant treatment. I could not disagree more. If anxiety and its gang of trouble makers is affecting your everyday life and the life of your child then help is definitely available and warranted.

The trick is to learn tools and coping skills that will allow your child to push back against anxiety. But how hard to push and in what levels and situations is something that is different for each child. Even more difficult is that what works for a specific child can vary greatly as they develop and mature.

There are many strategies and coping tools that can help a child with anxiety. The difficulty is finding what works best for your child. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. My son and I are in a continuous state of learning when it comes to how best to support him. The steps I list below are what is working currently for my son. This has changed and grown over the years and I will expect it to continue to do so. I share these in the hope that perhaps one or two may work for your child as you navigate through the options for coping that will fit your child.

5 Steps to Pushing Back Against Anxiety:
  1. Call Out the Bully

Anxiety, Anxiety Disorder, Worrying, Child Anxiety, Push Back Against Anxiety, The Long Exhale, Take a Minute, Rescue Remedy, Bach Rescue Remedy, Fidget toys, Fidget worry tools,

It’s easy to mistake some of the symptoms of anxiety in children with unfocused and/or bad behaviour. Identifying your child’s anxiety and what triggers it is a huge step towards controlling it, but calling out anxious behaviours and triggering situations is just as crucial. Call out the bully, don’t let anxiety secretly push your child around. This isn’t something we do out in public or in the classroom but at home we talk about the day and any triggering incident has taken place we call it what it is and my son can then take back control of that moment. When anxiety peaks at home I do my best to call it as I see it. Naming anxiety and other secretive disorders like OCD immediately gives them less power. It’s empowering to the child and really is very effective in putting things into perspective.

  1. The Long Exhale

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Anxiety not only creates a mental response in the mind but also a physical one. A sense of panic, the need to run or escape is often described. This can lead to a racing heart and quick shallow breathing.

By simply becoming aware of their breathing your child can work to bring their anxiety levels down into a range they can cope with. This is easier said than done, especially for children. When my son was 7 and the idea of breathing as a skill was introduced it was a disaster. Bringing awareness to his breathing only made him breath quicker and more panicked as he tried to complete the breathing exercises.

At 11 years old he is now able to use this skill more effectively and I know this is one that will be huge for him in the future as well. It takes practice, during a non-anxious period to get the feeling you want to try to recreate when an anxious episode is triggered. I just encourage my son to focus on a long exhale. I don’t really put a number of breaths or seconds in and out as that seems to trip him up. Just slow long breaths.

  1. Channel Anxious Energy

Anxiety, Anxiety Disorder, Worrying, Child Anxiety, Push Back Against Anxiety, The Long Exhale, Take a Minute, Rescue Remedy, Bach Rescue Remedy, Fidget toys, Fidget worry tools,

Another way to keep anxious energy from building or from coming out in destructive ways (lip chewing, nail biting, paper tearing or eating) is to use fidget tools. Anxiety has to have an outlet and most children and adults will naturally find one. Unfortunately these may not always be healthy or appropriate. Using a fidget tool like the ones I have pictured here are a great way to give anxious energy somewhere to go without being distracting or destructive. These have been really helpful for my son.

  1. Rescue Remedy

Anxiety, Anxiety Disorder, Worrying, Child Anxiety, Push Back Against Anxiety, The Long Exhale, Take a Minute, Rescue Remedy, Bach Rescue Remedy, Fidget toys, Fidget worry tools,

I love this stuff and have been using for years. The Bach Flower Remedies work in conjunction with herbs, homeopathy and medications and are safe for everyone. Rescue Remedy helps relax, focus and calm. We have recently moved from the drops to the pastilles so my son can have them at hand at school for those times when anxiety spikes. It has been a huge help! You can learn more about Rescue Remedy here: http://www.bachflower.com/rescue-remedy-information/

  1. Take a Minute

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This seems so simple but it’s one that is not always supported in the school system. Having the ability to just step out of an anxiety-provoking situation to ‘regroup’ can be huge towards avoiding a total meltdown or escalation of symptoms. Not only does this provide an opportunity to step away from the thing/situation that has triggered the anxiety it can also allow for some of the other tools to be put into action prior to rejoining the situation.

Thank you so much for taking time out of you busy day to read this post. My hope is that if your child or you struggle with anxiety you will be able to take away something helpful or encouraging from this post. I have also created a quick reference printable called 5 Steps Against Anxiety – Everyday Journalista 2016 you can print off.

If you have some tools that have worked for your child I would love to hear them as well.

I’m Anxious About My Child’s Anxiety

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I’m a worrier. I always have been. I worry about letting people down, I worry about getting in a car accident, and of course I worry about my children, a lot. These worries are there but they don’t prevent me from taking things on or driving my car or from encouraging my kids to try new things (for the most part). I am able to cope with my worries and function in my life. But what happens when those worries start to take over? When coping becomes a struggle and it keeps you from doing or trying new things.

This is what happens to both my children to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s simple apprehension about going into class in the morning. Other times it can be crying about the possibility of something bad happening, or picking anxiously at their fingers to the point that they bleed. Anxiety has many faces, sometimes you see it, and sometimes you don’t.

Anxiety is a constant presents in my home. Sometimes I forget it’s there and for a while it almost feels like my children are carefree and ready to face the world. Then something will happen. Sometimes it’s an event like a simple power outage or a conflict with a friend. Sometimes I have no idea what triggers it. But like a sea monster rearing its’ ugly head our entire family feels the shift as one or both of my children get dragged under into a period of fear, insecurity and uncertainty.

As a mother of children with anxiety I constantly struggle with knowing how much worry is okay and when it’s time to step in. I get that the world can be a harsh place and that we need to teach our kids to deal with those ups and downs, whatever they may be. But what happens when your child can’t cope? When is enough, enough? When does it become more harmful than helpful?

I certainly don’t have the answers and for us anxiety and coping levels are constantly in flux. There are times when it feels like all the work we are putting in is paying off and then other times when it feels like we are right back at square one.

As adults there’s often so much we don’t know about people. Many of our friends and family, co-workers, and neighbors only know a small portion of who we really are. I think the same can be true for those who struggle with anxiety. Due to social responsibilities and expectations, or misunderstanding and lack of support at home anxious children can often end up internalizing their worries. Hiding the struggle they’re really facing.

Teachers may see a happy functioning student each day in the classroom. Meanwhile, the child is suffering on the inside, and what comes out once they return to an environment they feel is ’safe’? For my children that decompression at home can range from tears and anger to purge talking and hugs.

Each and everyday my children go to battle against anxiety. I do my best to help them feel loved and secure but it’s a battle they have to win on their own.

Thanks so much for sticking around to read today’s post. It’s quite a bit more serious than a lot of my posts but something that I’ve really wanted to write about. I just feel like there is still so much about anxiety that is misunderstood or not seen. If you have a child who struggles with anxiety they are definitely not alone and neither are you.

 

Summer Structure for an Anxious Child

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Summer is here and I could not be more excited! I love everything about it! The heat, the fruit, the pool, the kids out of school, evening walks, growing things in the garden, …and did I say the heat? :)

With the kids out of school there is no shortage of spare time, but for some kids that is not necessarily a good thing. Summers tend to be a bit of a challenge around our house. Without the consistency and structure that school provides, my son’s anxiety disorder tends to peak quickly. Over the past two summers this has actually become quite debilitating at times.

Providing at least some structure or predictability to an anxious child’s day and week can go a long way in helping to keep anxiety at a level they can cope with. My son’s OCD also tends to rear its ugly head when his anxiety is heightened so I really want to do all I can to allow him to enjoy summer as much as I do.

In an attempt to provide a more school-like structure to our summer I have created a couple of tools that we are using on a daily and weekly basis. Now let me clarify that I am not doing homeschool or anything like that. What I mean by school-like structure is creating a schedule of sorts that outlines the general flow of the day.

This is by no means set in stone, but it gives my kids an idea of how the day will play out. If something else comes up we may change things up or if one activity is really fun and runs long, we just go with it. The idea is that my kids can have a look at the calendar and see that the plan is go to for a bike ride tomorrow evening, or they can look to the end of the week and see that Friday afternoon we have an outing planned.

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As you can see from my sample I have also scheduled a time called ‘chores’. For this I have created another chart (these are all posted on our fridge by the way) that outlines the specific chores the kids are required to do. This is a new thing for us so I have kept the expectation low to create lots of opportunity for success. They have been asked to complete 5 basic tasks like getting dressed and brushing their teeth. These are to be done without being asked by me as I am typically working either at the studio or at home during ‘chore’ time and can’t be yelling at them to brush their teeth. The other tasks on the chart are to be completed when asked by me or when scheduled. I have set it up so that if all tasks are completed they will receive $5 at the end of the week.

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I just made these simple charts in word and I print them off each week for the fridge. I bought a huge roll of stickers from the dollar store and that is basically it.

You can see that I have left Saturday and Sunday blank on the weekly calendar and given free passes for some chores on the weekends as well. Again really trying to encourage the kids to get involved and to set them up to succeed.

We are just wrapping up our second week, and both my kids have had a great response to the system so far. My 8 year old daughter is loving it and even does some extra chores to earn bonus points!  My 11 year old son is really doing well with it too although he does not appreciate our scheduled ‘learning’ time. He would literally game all day long if I let him… what is it with boys and gaming? “It’s summer, mom; I shouldn’t have to think” to quote him directly! J But honestly it’s about 15-20 minutes of math and language arts stuff, and once they get started they seem to actually seem to like it.

Introducing this little bit of structure has helped my son’s anxiety as he can see what is coming in the days and weeks to come. He seems more at ease this summer than he has is the last several summers. It has helped me promote some independence in my kids as well as helping me carve out some special activities and outings with them.

 

 

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