Evan McLeod is five years old. He was born with microcephaly, autism, and global development delays, and he loves Disney.
Eeka McLeod adopted Evan and her two other children, Eli and Ella, from foster care, and like Evan, Eli and Ella also have disabilities. All three of the McLeod children have trouble with their communication skills, but Evan struggles the most.
“Evan’s speech is a major struggle. He didn’t speak until he was well into his 3rd year,” explained Eeka. However, when she saw just how much Evan loved Disney, Eeka knew the perfect way to help her children develop their social and communication skills, all while having tons of fun. Trips to Disneyland!
Prior to the pandemic, the McLeods visited Disneyland every week. “[Evan]’s motivation to speak came from our weekly Disneyland days. He wanted to be able to tell me what toys he wanted me to buy, what rides he wanted to go on, what characters he wanted to see, and what treats he wanted to eat.” Suffice to say, that’s quite the motivator.
Since Evan and his family have been visiting Disneyland for years now, many of the workers and character actors there know and remember Evan. Recently, a TikTok created by Eeka went viral. It shows Ariel, who clearly recognizes Evan and remembers his disabilities, communicating and redirecting Evan. She is patient and kind, and doesn’t break character once. The touching video reached 11.5 million views and earned 3.3 million likes.
“Ariel was fantastic! She continued to engage Evan to ensure his moment with her was as magical as possible,” said Eeka, explaining just how much that moment meant to her as well. “The [cast members] don’t just make Evan feel accepted and loved; they make me feel that way as well.”
Evan and his siblings benefit greatly from having such incredible social interactions with the cast members. The safe space full of magic and wonder allows them to grow those skills in a judgment-free environment. “Not everyone understands children like Evan and as a mother that is so heartbreaking,” continued Eeka. “Kids used to run away from him at playgrounds and call him weird. Those moments shattered me. But at Disney, he’s just another happy child where he’s shown nothing but genuine kindness.”
Evan also experiences the freedom to wear whatever he wants at Disneyland, without fear of judgment. Costumes are, of course, essential to many children when going to Disneyland, but Evan recently also showed interest in wearing dresses and other costumes from the female characters. “He has told me he’s a girl, but also tells me he’s a boy,” said Eeka. “He likes boy stuff such as Spider-Man, but sadly there aren’t a lot of dresses for male characters.” Eeka is supportive of Evan and however he chooses to dress and identify. “Any time he tells me he’s a boy or girl, I just smile and say okay and tell him that I love him always.”Whizzco