Summer is here! Typically, it's a time to take your family on vacation, whether it's plane, train, or car many families are taking advantage of these weeks when our children aren't in school.
Sounds like fun, right? For many special needs families vacations are full of uncertainty, creating anxiety in our kids. Here are a few tips and tricks I've used in the last several years.
Show images of the actual property you will be staying. Show them images of the hotel room, resort, pool (if applicable), beach, etc.
Come up with a schedule and let them know ahead of time. Example: Monday, we're flying, then will go to our hotel to unpack. Tuesday, we'll be snorkeling/going to the beach/skiing, etc etc. Again, show them pictures! Most special needs children think in pictures and may not understand or fully grasp your words. If we say "our room has two rooms and one bathroom" that might not register. Go ON the website and show them a picture of this room. For every single trip we take, I do this with my children. Our most recent getaway was to Legoland in Carlsbad, California. We stayed at the LegoLand resort. We went on the website, showed them exactly what the room looked like, what the theme park looked like so they knew what to expect. Keep in mind "typically" (I hate to lump all children into a category) surprises aren't exciting for our kids. They're caught of guard, go into "Fight or Flight mode", can appear extremely worried, anxious and often times will have meltdowns.
If you're attending a theme park, (Disney, Legoland, Universal, knottsberry Farm, and the like)the will provide special needs families with a "disability pass". This is KEY. It will allow your child and family the ability to skip the long lines by simply going to the disability/exit gate of the specific ride you're interested in riding.
If you are flying, bring iPads, headphones, their comfort items (stuffies, blankets, etc)to make them more comfortable and safe.
Not necessary, BUT if your child is limited verbally or non verbal, either get a bracelet with your phone number on it, or do as I do and simply write my phone number on their arms. That way in case they wander off you'll be able to be reunited. Especially if a child is in "Fight or Flight Mode" they may simply take off!
My children chew on chewies, simply a necklace with a rubber character, shape, etc. The oral input can allow them to calm themselves down if they become overwhelmed. (When we go on vacation my bag is FULL of these.)
Lastly, a visual schedule. It can be paper and laminated or simply on your phone. There are several visual schedule apps
Set timers when you know you're about to leave the park/beach/mountain and visually show them "okay Harlow, I set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off it's time to leave". Most importantly, hold yourself to that! Once the timer goes off there is no " one last ride, one last ski pass, that's it" what happens when we give in and give them those extra two minutes is they see there is wiggle room and in fact that timer is not absolute. My kids know, when the timer goes off, we're leaving. No exceptions.
Bring jackets, pants, extra clothing kn your bag in case they get cold, have a potty accident, get hot, etc.
Prepare them "there will be a crowd but that's okay. Mommy/daddy/grandma will keep you safe.*
It is absolutely possible to have a family vacation as a special needs family. The KEY is to prepare, show visuals so they know what the expect.
So take the vacation, no matter if you feel it will be a success or a disaster. Our kids amaze us every day with things they can handle (overstimulation etc )and if there happens to be a rough day or moment, take your child to a quiet spot, let them calm their bodies and emotions and try again. There will be some days that it's just not happening. They're too overwhelmed, stimulated, anxious, etc. And that's okay! It's about the experience, whether we perceive that experience as successful or not, we never know how our children experience it!
So if you have the opportunity, take the trip! Sure, it may be a little anxiety provoking for us, but it may just turn out to be the best vacation of your life.