Disney Dreams

We first featured Conor and his Mum, Jacquie back in April 2018, as they were preparing to join Dream Come True group trip to the Orlando theme parks.

Conor has severe autism and since childhood, Disney has been a  source of reassurance and calming comfort for him. Now aged 19 and a strapping lad of 6’4”, Conor has made great leaps in his development, partly due to Jacquie’s refusal to let autism win over their lives.

Jacquie worked hard to prepare Conor for the trip, explaining the plans to him and getting him involved with packing their suitcases. We were therefore fascinated to hear how Conor coped with the new and overwhelming sights and sounds that awaited him. Jacquie talked us through it:

“At the hotel, the evening before our flight Conor was a bit anxious. He is non-verbal and has difficulty explaining what is worrying him, so he got very upset when we went food shopping and he thought we were leaving our bags at the hotel and going on the plane without them. As soon as I explained to him that we were going back to the hotel for one more sleep, he was fine.

After a long but calm flight, they arrived in Florida. Jacquie went on to explain how Conor coped with the theme parks:

Conor loved most things but he wasn’t keen on the rides - that was probably my fault as I accidentally took him on Space Mountain which scared us both – I had no idea!  After that we just stuck to the slower rides, which were fine for Conor – and for me!

At SeaWorld we went on the Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin ride, which he was a bit unsure of at first as it was dark. However, when the ride came out by a big pool full of real penguins, Conor absolutely loved it. I have never seen a reaction like that from him! I couldn’t believe it – I had no idea he loved penguins that much. I bought him a toy penguin and he has slept with it ever since. He’s never slept with a toy in his life but he loves that penguin – he’s still got it in his bed now!”  

Jacquie also explained how Conor coped being in a group environment with other children and their families.

“At first, a couple of the other children were a frightened of Conor as he is so big. However, after a couple of days they were all best of friends and one little girl particularly couldn’t leave him alone! Conor is a gentle giant and everyone warms to him eventually, so we really got into the group thing. He loved the swimming and all the music and dancing. The group bonded really well and it was lovely for me to spend time with other parents in a similar situation.”

Jacquie was both proud and surprised by Conor’s reactions to so many new situations and experiences.

“What really surprised me was that I found out what Conor really likes. I sometimes wish he could talk and tell us more about his likes and dislikes but it was so obvious from his behaviour –  particularly the animals and the Disney characters. He was hugging Barney and dancing with him, which was just wonderful to see.  

Conor is also very driven by routine and I could tell he was enjoying himself because he was up like a shot every morning, getting his badges on ready for the day! He was shattered by nightfall, so we didn’t do many of the group evening activities, but I think he got more out of this trip than anything.

The highlight for me was a special trip we made to Discovery Cove. We got into the pool with rays and dolphins swimming around us and Conor was great – he overcame his anxieties and really enjoyed it. Although he wouldn’t swim with a dolphin, he did stroke it and kissed it on the nose! I was so proud of him. “

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