Child With Autism Bullied at Disney World

An upsetting incident has been reported by Amanda Broadfoot over at Life is a Spectrum.

According to her blog, an incident occurred this past New Year’s Eve while on a trip to Orlando, Florida when her and her family were dining at the ABC Commissary restaurant in Hollywood Studios (part of the Walt Disney World Resort). Broadfoot claims that while eating at the restaurant, a group of "aggressive, rude and possibly drunk teenagers" began blowing noisemakers directly at her 4-year-old child with autism, causing him to repeatedly hit himself in the head. Apparently, the teens found this reaction amusing and continued their actions to the point where they "targeted" her child. When the boy’s uncle asked them to stop, stating that they were "torturing an autistic boy," one of the teens responded, "That’s not my problem."  Broadfoot said the incident was a classic case of bullying.

When a manager was called over to intervene, she too was unsuccessful at getting the rowdy teens to stop and then stated there was nothing else she could do.

There are a couple of troubling elements to this story. The first involves the actual incident itself and the other involves Disney’s response once they learned of the ordeal.

Assuming everything happened as Broadfoot claims, the restaurant manager should have immediately escalated the incident to security when the teens were defiant of the requests to stop their actions. However, it appears as if the manager didn’t want to be inconvenienced by escalating the situation and that is totally unacceptable.

But the most concerning part of this incident came after it occurred, when Broadfoot communicated with a Disney guest communications service representative through telephone, then email. Upon learning the details of her story, the Disney rep emailed her the following:

"…I am very sorry for the disappointment you experienced during your family’s New Year’s Eve celebration at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park.

I wanted to personally assure you that your feedback has been considered taken seriously [sic]. The safety and well-being of our guests are of the utmost importance to us in all aspects of our operation. Our Cast Members are instructed to assist Guests requiring assistance and their families to our First Aid stations located in each of our four theme parks. These locations are established areas where your family can seek comfort during experiences like the one you encountered from the actions of other Guests…."

So if a child with special needs (or anyone else for that matter) is being harassed by other guests at Disney World, it is the family’s responsibility to flee to a first aid station for "comfort?"  

Even if Broadfoot had been instructed by the restaurant manager to do so, the family would’ve had to uproot themselves in the middle of a meal — all because they were unfortunate enough to sit next to some obnoxious teens.

Whatever happened to the concept of security?

In response to the Disney email, Broadfoot followed up on her blog with the following:

"The idea that we should have to take our dinner to the first aid station, one of the "safe havens," in order to ensure our children weren’t bullied, is nothing short of ridiculous."

Disney World has always been a pleasant place for our family to visit. The parks do an excellent job at accommodating our son with autism and ensuring we have a great time. However, it appears from this incident that Disney needs to review how they handle these types of incidents in future, both when they occur and after they’ve happened.

The burden should not be placed on the guests (particularly those of special needs children) to seek a first aid station when they are being harassed or bullied.

Many children with autism endure bullying on a regular basis and we need to do a much better job, regardless of where that may be, to ensure our kids our protected by those who get amusement by preying upon the weak and vulnerable.


8 Responses to Child With Autism Bullied at Disney World

  1. Jen says:

    It is unfortunate that this happened, and definitely it could have been handled better, but I really hope this one story doesn’t dissuade people from going to Disney. It is the ONE place that has been accommodating to our child with autism. I am afraid this story is taking on a life of its own. Also, we know our kids best. New Years Eve at Disney probably isn’t the best place for a child with Autism. Just like we have to skip all fireworks and parades and even trick or treating with out own daughter. Too much for her. There are so few places that try to include our kids…I hope people don’t judge Disney on this one incident.

  2. carol brannaka says:

    Too often our society punishes the victim, when my daughter was bullied in school hallways she was told she needed to leave classes early and take alternate routes to avoid her attackers-this is the same mentality-what is wrong with just telling punks to knock it off????? I am sick for this family and thier child and I think Disney should be ashamed of themselves for that response. I don’t care what the other comment says about accomodations, these people were bullied in public and Disney SUPPORTED the bullying-disgusting-shame on YOU WALT-I hope Obama reads this and kicks some mouse ass over it!

  3. C.A Curie says:

    ….I’m happy that Disney does almost everything right…I question the morals of those boys…
    That being said, this is a huge crisis! In a response to your Disney story
    …there are wheelchair accessibility ramps and bathrooms, braille, touch tone, etc…everywhere…but where are the quiet art filled and/ or play rooms, restaurants and ASD facilities?
    For such a tremendously large proportion of society..perhaps someone should be focused on quiet lit, picky eater buffets with a clear glass enclosed, therapist monitored play/ art/ music area in the middle so all parents can see their kids and visa versa. We’ll need a few of those in every town.
    We are just not ready.
    My heart goes out to mom, the family and the child.

  4. Julie Shepard says:

    I am the mom of a 7 year old Autistic girl and we have been to Disney several times over the years and they have treated us with the utmost respect & dignity even when we have asked for certain accommodations. Sometimes we had to explain what or why we needed what we needed but I think that’s where the issue was in the above article. Some people do not understand what Autism is nor do they understand that all folks with Autism are the not the same. I’ve had people tell me that ‘she just needs to snap out of it and face reality.’ That was when she was 3, non-verbal and had auditory sensitivity. Seriously, people just don’t understand it.

    Maybe Disney just needs to step it up with some training or seminars to help their employees understand it.

  5. Jen says:

    There does need to be more training. With as prevalent as asd is, there def needs to be more training in a lot of places. That being said, I don’t expect complete strangers to bend over backwards for us and I am fully aware that a bunch of teens are going to be the last people to do so. Instead of getting angry we need to model patience and understanding and educate. It’s my job to make sure the world is safe for my child…I don’t expect that from anyone else. I know this puts me in the minority, but I don’t care. It’s just not the image of families with autism I want to portray to the outside world.

  6. Mark says:

    This is a really good case study. I’m in law school right now, and when I was in undergraduate school I worked at Disney World one summer. One of the things I learned was that they really don’t bring security into anything unless it’s really extreme (“physical” violence or property destruction), at which point they generally have the actual police (who are stationed backstage) come out to handle it. Unlike Universal, Busch Gardens, and the other companies’ parks down there, Disney shies away from security in order to avoid messing up their “image.” In the past they had a stronger security force, and they reduced its presence (and what the security guards were allowed to do) when they got too many “negative reactions” from guests.

    Every time this happens – bullying and other such behavior – we should all write to Disney asking them to improve security procedures. Disney World can be a superb place for families of children with autism and other neurological/physical differences, so I truly hope they can work out this problem.


  7. Roxann says:

    A similar incident happened to my nephew at WDW. We were in line for Big Thunder Mountain. He is normally fine with waiting as long as he has his Nintendo DS. A group of those Brazilian/Argentinian tour groups (all teens) came up behind us and was shoving their way through the line while chanting. My nephew couldn’t take the noise or the fact that they kept trying to push past us. (My husband is rather large and blocked them despite their pleas of “but our group is ahead!”)

    I turned and told them we had a special needs child with us and that they needed to settle down. They refused, and made even more noise. We had leave and as we did so, I told the cast member at the entrance. She just shrugged!!!

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