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New Disney policy upsets Lakeland mom

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Lakeland teen Drew Maxwell Lakeland teen Drew Maxwell
LAKELAND, FL (WFLA) -

Drew Maxwell is like a lot of 14-year-old boys. The Lakeland teen loves Disney and can't get enough of his favorite rides at the theme park, but there's a twist to Drew's story.

"Drew is on the autism spectrum. He's pretty severe," explained his mom Cheri Maxwell.

Cheri says it's taken years for Drew to be able to leave Disney without a violent, physical meltdown.

"A meltdown for Drew is very severe. He will jump in the air and land on his bottom just on concrete, anything. He will hit himself and us. He will bite at us," Cheri said.

Those outbursts are now rarer, but Cheri is fearful changes to Disney's policy for guests with disabilities may make a visit to Mickey Mouse unbearable for her family.

"I mean for him to go up to a ride and be turned away to come back later, it's going to be devastating to him," Cheri said.

Disney is making the switch from the Guest Assistance Card, which gives families like Drew's faster, line by-passing access to rides, to a Disability Access Service Card that may require returning to a ride at a later time.

A letter from Walt Disney Parks President Meg Crofton explains why the policy shift is necessary. The letter reads, in part:

"Unfortunately our current program for providing access to attractions for guests with disabilities has been abused and exploited to such an extent that we are no longer able to effectively sustain it in its present form."

An undercover NBC investigation revealed able-bodied guests hiring disabled tour guides to afford them the front-of-the-line access which Disney now wants to restrict.

Cheri Maxwell says the actions of a few are affecting many families like hers.

"It affects the entire community of people living with autism. I mean people are heartbroken over this," she said.

Disney does assure its guests with disabilities that they can still expect a "magical experience" at all of its theme parks.

"In keeping with our long history of providing accommodations for our guests with disabilities, we will continue to provide assistance that is responsive to their needs," Crofton said.

The new policy goes into effect Oct. 9.

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