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Why I Love It's a Small World as Someone on the Autism Spectrum


If you’re like me, every few years growing up, you’d spend a good amount of time at a Disney theme park with your family, friends, sweetheart or siblings. Maybe you enjoyed getting wet on Splash Mountain, singing “Yo-ho-ho a pirate’s life for me” on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, watching singing parrots in the Enchanted Tiki Room or getting your picture taken with Mickey and Minnie. And maybe you either dragged someone (or got dragged by someone else) to be subjected to 15 minutes of riding in a slow-moving boat and watching a bunch of dolls in an abstract, colorful atmosphere singing the exact same song over and over again.

Yup, you guessed it. It’s a Small World.

Today, if you asked anybody over the age of 9 about that ride, a lot of them might admit to a fairly passionate hatred toward the classic Disney gem. Why do so many people dislike It’s a Small World? The most common reason I’ve found is the horribly catchy song that’s endlessly repeated and stays stuck in your head when the ride is over. Others say it’s the animatronic dolls. Some would even argue that, compared to other Disney rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, its architecture and feel is not nearly authentic enough.

The reasons why some people dislike this ride can go on and on. But the question I really want to answer is: why do I like It’s a Small World when many others don’t?

You probably wouldn’t expect a nearly 21-year old male to say he loves It’s a Small World, a ride that mainly appeals to young kids and their parents. And you probably wouldn’t expect to hear that I actually enjoy the song playing during the ride. For one, I understand the context behind the ride: Countries around the world are presented with representations of their people and cultures, and combined with the lyrics, the ride delivers a powerful message that all people and nations are equal. Everyone experiences love, hatred, disappointment, hopes, dreams and desires, but our differences can make us oblivious to that. I also like the ride because of the artistry and detail throughout. Sure, it doesn’t have Pirates’ ability to transport you to another time and place, or the Mansion’s highly detailed technicality through special effects, but it still has the vibrant, colorful artistry of Mary Blair that inspires the young and the young at heart.

But I think the most significant reason I never grew to despise this ride is because it’s one of those rides that accommodates my sensory issues. A trip to a theme park can be both a thrill and a nightmare for someone like me on the autism spectrum — lots of people everywhere, loud noises all around, waiting in long lines only so the ride can break down… It can really be tough for anyone sensitive to sound, touch or atmosphere. Growing up, I would avoid several rides, such as The Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain, Tower of Terror and even The Haunted Mansion because there were many fast, sudden changes or unsettling moments that would overwhelm my senses. I would always go on other rides, such as The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, where I always knew what was about to happen. As for It’s a Small World, it not only felt like a safe haven for me, but the many creative scenes within the ride, along with all of the beautiful art and designs, inspired me and made me feel like I was 3 years old again.

Could this be called a guilty pleasure of mine? Am I really too old for this ride? I actually doubt this very much. I only consider something a guilty pleasure if it’s of poor quality and not deserving of any recognition as something positive. To me, It’s a Small World is a beautiful declaration by Disney that all people are equal, and if we were to open our eyes a bit more, the world would be a happier place. The same goes for anyone on the autism spectrum. Why can’t people open their eyes a bit and see that those with sensory issues or verbal communication difficulties are really not different from them?

“There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.”

Follow this journey on Growing Up Autistic.

Image source: Jonnyboyca [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons