Don't come near me Mickey, or I swear I'll square up.
I have been blessed and lucky enough to have been able to visit Disney World consistently since I was four. I'm not certain of many things (comes with the Bipolar I guess) but one thing I'm damn sure about; Costumed Characters scare the daylights out of me. It is totally understandable to be terrified of a big furry cartoon character when you're a child.
If you've ever been in the Disney Parks with me, and I've been unlucky enough to be blindsided by a Costumed Character, you would see me break into cold sweats and make a B line the hell outta there. I guess lucky for my mother, as she didn't have to wait in long lines to see them with me! Though it was also probably frustrating early on not to get any "staple Disney Park photos" with the Characters.
They also have whole restaurants dedicated to these things! If we did want to dine at a restaurant that offered Character interaction, I would be seated at a table against a wall. That way, my back was to the wall and I had a wall of adults to protect me. I don't know why (I mean I do, probably for that extra Disney Magic[tm]) but the Characters love to sneak up behind you, and surprise you.
I can't imagine that went over very well the first time that happened to me! So, time moved forward, I got older, but the fear never diminished. Which is wild, because I've grown to be bigger than most Characters!
So why has this persisted?
Well, that's a very good question with a complicated answer. It really stems from my social anxiety with Autism, and my Generalized Anxiety amplifying that fear. I was never afraid they were going to hurt me, or do anything to me, I was terrified of interacting with them. For somebody who has trouble interacting 'normally' with other people (what society views as normal interactions) how do I interact with a big felt monstrosity that can't talk, or make any kind of expression?
Just the idea of trying to figure out how to interact with them would send my brain into an Anxiety feedback loop, until I got so overwhelmed I would shut down. Its funny, I actually get the same way with idolized people. I only found this out years ago at FanExpo, when I got to meet Matt Smith and take a photo with him. I was fine right up until he said hi, and I completely froze, couldn't talk at all. This has lead me to believe the previous theory as true, that it is the social anxiety that creates these symptoms for me! (Either that or Matt Smith is also a costumed character, and I haven't completely ruled that out!)
The problem is, Costumed Characters have become such a staple in Disney Parks, that you become the odd one out for not wanting to see them. It makes it seem like you haven't properly completed your trip if you haven't taken a bunch of pictures with them.
I'd love to see this mentality change, there's absolutely no shame in wanting your space away from those felt fiends. If you're going to a Disney Park for the first time with Autism, or somebody who has Autism, take your time, and maybe check out a character with a shorter line first. Less pressure that way; and you'll see in a safer environment if you're okay with them or not!
I would also love to see Disney make some Character meet and greets that were sensory friendly and less pressured. Maybe instead of a line using boarding groups similar to Rise of the Resistance, and/or use spaces with reduced noise. That way, you set up the perfect environment to make the Characters look less... daunting. Having a handler would probably help too, somebody who could speak to us for the Character, that way we don't panic trying to figure out what flapping their furry arms is even supposed to mean!
Well, I guess that was my rant about Costumed Characters. If you enjoy getting to see the Characters, great! However, as it is right now, a lot of us will continue to be terrified of them!
Anyway, have a fantastic day, and I'll see you tomorrow for the final post in this series.