If you had a child who fell in love with an amusement park ride while on vacation, would you pack up your family and make a permanent move across the country for them to be closer to it?
For some, that might seem like a drastic move. However, Ron Miles did just that for his autistic son, Ben, after a visit to Disney World.
In “3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White,” Miles recounts the true story of his difficult journey raising a child with autism. The stress of parenting a child with a developmental disorder and losing a job proves too much for Miles and his wife, which eventually results in their divorce. However, despite their differences, Ben's parents remain on good terms and continue to care for him to the best of their ability.
It isn't until Ben quickly develops a fascination with Disney that readers see him slowly break through the barriers. Although he is mostly non-verbal at the beginning of the book, this later changes through his enjoyment of fast forwarding and rewinding Disney movies to listen to a particular sound clip repeatedly. From this, he experiences his first vocal breakthroughs when his father sings Disney songs with Ben filling in the words.
So despite their separation, Ben's parents make the decision to take a trip to Disney World.
Upon entering Disney, Miles notes the effect the park has on his son, saying, “For what seemed like the first time in his life, Benjamin became absolutely focused and present.”
Since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is one of Ben’s favorite movies, Snow White’s Scary Adventures ride is the natural first choice for him, and he immediately becomes transfixed.
Although still mostly non-verbal, Ben begins to verbalize the names of park rides, and Miles sees that Disney World could be a major tool to unlocking his son’s social skills. After a second trip to Disney elicits similar reactions, Miles and his ex-wife both make the big move to Orlando for Ben to be closer to his favorite place.
After seemingly endless visits to the Snow White ride, Ben’s parents begin to make rules about how many times he can ride in a row and Miles also begins keeping track of how many rides Ben can take. Miles recounts 10 years worth of visits to Disney World and adds up Ben’s 3,500 rides; his last ride takes place just before Snow White’s Scary Adventure was shut down in May of 2012.
The most refreshing aspect of Miles’ story is the honesty with which he shares. He tells readers from the very beginning, “If you picked up this book expecting to read a story about how a theme park attraction miraculously cured an autistic boy, then you are going to be sadly disappointed.”
Miles also makes no attempt to sugarcoat the difficulties of raising an autistic son, openly discussing everything from his failed marriage to having to throw the breaker and cut off the electricity in his house just to get his son to sleep at night.
As Ben falls in love with Snow White, the reader falls in love with Ben. Miles provides a heartwarming glimpse into Ben’s life as he transitions from a completely non-verbal child to a young man using almost full sentences and saying, “Please.” Each time Ben accomplishes something new, the reader shares Miles’ joy in his growth, and Ben’s final lap on his favorite ride elicits emotion from even the most indifferent reader.
Beyond painting a portrait of what it is like to raise a child with autism — an often under-acknowledged feat — the book provides messages of overcoming obstacles and unconditional love.
With touching themes from the story of a relatable family and much of the money made from book sales going toward a special needs fund for Ben’s long term care, “3500” is certainly worth the read.