An interaction with a fellow cast member helped Disneyland Resort Entertainment cast member Walker Williams open up to his leaders about his challenges with autism, and it’s made all the difference in his feelings of acceptance at work.
“She recognized that I was seeking help, but didn’t know how to ask,” said Walker, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. “In that moment I felt vulnerable, and I allowed my walls to come down.”
April is Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month, and the Disneyland Resort is highlighting three cast members and their perspectives and experiences with autism.
“With Asperger’s, I like to keep a lot of things to myself, and I bottle up a lot,” said Walker. He used to feel shame about having autism, but that changed once he confided in his leaders.
“If it wasn’t for my management team, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I still would have been isolated, always bottling up inside,” said Walker. “I have my stuttering and OCD, but my managers understand. It’s nice to be able to be vulnerable and open, and that has really helped me become a better cast member.”
Food and Beverage cast member Casey Black has a son with autism, and he uses his knowledge to educate and share resources with fellow cast.
“I ask my cast what they would do if my son came up to them,” said Casey. “I tell them, he’s a runner, so as soon as he sees something he likes, he’s going to run off. I ask them what they would do in that moment, and who they would call [for help].”
Casey said it’s important to have honest conversations with cast in a safe space. “It’s OK not to know what to do.” Casey said understanding is the key to acceptance. “When you see that little moment with guests when there is panic or yelling, don’t assume that they’re a bad parent and can’t control their children. Maybe someone’s day is not going well, so it’s about being able to go up to them and have confidence that you know what tools are available to help them so they can have a good day.”
Attractions cast member Rene Guerrero has a daughter with autism, and like Casey, uses her knowledge and experience to better assist her guests.
“It’s really about having a lot of patience,” said Rene. “When a child is having a meltdown or tantrum, they’re not acting out, they’re just trying to find a way to communicate with you.” Rene added, “you have to look at the situation in a different way and try to help.”
Walker, Casey and Rene share a few ways to be more inclusive around guests and cast with autism:
Be open minded. “The biggest thing, in my opinion, is to be kind and have an open heart,” said Walker.
Know what your area has to offer. “Maybe you have a quiet space in your area,” said Casey. “Or a space with bright lights that provide a distraction and a sense of focus for children with autism.” Rene added, “I always recommend directing guests [with children] to Child Care Centers because they are quiet and cool.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. “When you ask more questions, you have a better understanding of what the other person is going through,” said Walker. “That’s where the learning takes place.”
Walker said autism acceptance is about “looking at the individual as a person not as a disability. We all have our own struggles and the beautiful part about life is that it’s a team effort and no one is better than another.”