Five Tips to Help Make Summer Trips Exciting With Special Needs
Splash Pads, Amusement Parks, Family Vacations
For many families, summertime can be a source of family bonding, excitement, and fun. However, summer activities can quickly turn hectic. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) crave stability. Meltdowns may seem inevitable whenever a child is thrown off a routine without warning. As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to plan a special day with your child only to have him/her become overwhelmed and upset. But family time doesn’t have to be so stressful, there are steps you can take to create a more positive atmosphere for everyone. As an autistic female myself, and the mother of an autistic child, I have gathered some tips and ideas over the years to help make summer outings and trips go smoother for the whole family. Keep in mind every person on the spectrum is different and these tips may need to be adjusted to suit your child’s needs.
Tip 1: Let your child know what to expect WELL ahead of time
It’s vitally important that your child know what to expect from your trip or family outing. Let your child know well ahead of time what you all will be doing and who will be there. Be sure to allow enough time for your child to process the information you have given them. You may need to explain your trip either verbally, through sign, electronics, or picture cards depending on how your child communicates best. Keep in mind your explanation may vary depending on your child’s personality, age, attention span, and level of understanding. Try adjusting your explanation to best fit your child, for instance, more inquisitive children may require a more detailed and thorough explanation. Children who are especially uncomfortable with change may need pictures and frequent reminders. Try to keep your explanation as upbeat and to the point as possible.
Tip 2: Make a plan, keeping your child’s interests in mind
Have a game plan in place. Consider making an itinerary. At the very least, know where you’re going and when. Staying organized is key. Keep your child’s sensory issues and interests in mind when planning the event. Just because most kids enjoy certain activities doesn’t mean your child will. For instance, don’t expect a child that hates rain and bath time to enjoy going to a water park. Try to let your child have some say in the planning. Allowing him or her to pick where to eat, or what order to do the activities in, will really help your child to feel included. It’s important your child know that the trip is for his/her enjoyment too not to mention, having a little control over the situation will help him/her to feel more grounded. Praise his/her choices and say thank you for helping you decide.
Tip 3: Let your loved ones in on your plan
Now that you have a plan, make sure everyone knows about it. Make sure whoever is going on your trip with you has been well informed. Your efforts can be thwarted unintentionally by a well-meaning relative, who is unaware of the stability your child needs. For instance, you may think it’s not important for Aunt Ida to know that you plan to make a pit stop every two hours on the dot. The drive is going smoothly, up until Aunt Ida complains of all the stops and suggests you all keep driving. Imagine your car suddenly livened up by your son’s high pitched shrieking, (he has to pee and thinks you’re not stopping). For children with autism, there is nothing more anxiety provoking than listening to adults bicker about whether or not they will get to do something they were reassured would happen. Once you tell your ASD child something is going to happen, it NEEDS to happen.
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Tip 4: Be prepared for mishaps and pack accordingly
Try to have a backup plan in case your child does start to become agitated or uncomfortable. Having sensory friendly supplies such as hats, sunglasses, sensory toys, and noise-canceling headphones at the ready can potentially save your event. Always keep an eye out for your child starting to become overstimulated. Reacting quickly can help you avoid a full-on meltdown. Your child’s sudden outbursts may seem unprovoked, but keep in mind your child does not want to be upset and is not intentionally being difficult. If you can foresee a potential problems occurring, consider calling your hotel, cruise, or destination ahead of time to express your concern and see if you can work out a solution together. Keep your child’s safety in mind. For example, if you know your child is prone to wandering, you may want to discuss what kind of lock your hotel room will have or ensure you don’t get the room facing out towards a busy street.
Tip 5: Keep your cool
Most importantly, try not to be stressed. Individuals with autism are often much more receptive to emotion than most people realize. If you are tense, your child will be tense. Staying calm is especially important for those with nonverbal children who may become scared if they don’t know what’s happening. Imagine not knowing what’s going on, but being able to sense your parent is tense? If your child does become agitated or upset, try to be understanding. Remember your child’s routine has been disrupted, it is logical for them to feel uneasy. If your child starts to cry or yell, he or she may very well be communicating feelings the best way he/she knows how. A little patience and understanding can really go a long way.
I hope you find these tips helpful for you and your family. May you all make the most incredible memories this summer.
Rebecca Jenkins graduated Suma Cum Laude with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Tusculum College. She works from home as a freelance writer, autism advocate, and aspiring motivational speaker. Rebecca has experience working with children with special needs. Both her, and her son have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD