Archives for August 2013

Practicing what we preach.

Beaches Turks, Pool - CropWe give advice and tips every week but do we ever follow our own advice ?

Many of the tips and resources that we point out to you are things that we have discovered in the course of our travels. Others have come as recommendations from others.
Now we’re off to put as many of these tips into practice as we, realistically, can in one trip. This does mean that there will be no posting next week. That, of course, is us taking our own advice to get some quality R&R !

When we get back, we’ll give you a full report on which tips worked best in practice. Which ones seem no longer to apply and what we’ve learned that is new and may be of help to others.

Happy Labor Day.
“See you in September” – The Happenings(1966)

Why would anybody want to take a vacation ?

Beaches Negril, Evening - CropHaving previously asked some of the practical questions about taking a vacation (BIG Questions when planning a vacation), it seems like a good idea to ask an even more fundamental question. Why would you want to take a vacation ? And, are the reasons different for our families ?

Reasons for wanting to take a vacation are as varied as the families taking them. There are, however, some reasons that come up frequently.

R&R. That’s a big one for any family these days. It is an even bigger reason for families with a member on the spectrum. Think about it. For typical families, the modern lifestyle is on-the-go/multi-tasking/constant-stress. And they have it easy, don’t they ? They don’t have to deal with doctor or therapist appointments with anything like the frequency that we do. They don’t have to deal with PPT struggles or, worse, due process.

A study by Brigham Young University found that stress in parents of children with autism measured at the same level as that of combat soldiers !

We need our R&R more than most. Actually our need is more like R&R&R (Respite, if that isn’t obvious). In order to get that extra “R”, think about the support that you may need and try something like, perhaps, having some extended family members come with you.

By the way, wouldn’t it be cool if the insurance company covered the cost as “stress relief therapy” ? We think so but absolutely can’t find a single insurance company that agrees ! If you ever find one, let us know and we’ll tell the world.

 

New Experiences. Many people want to experience things on their vacation that are new, different and memorable. Of course, for some of our kids, “new” is their biggest challenge.

 

The art here is to try to leverage the familiar. What we mean by that is to incorporate things that can be made to feel familiar. This could be to take your child’s pillow, or other bedding, so that feel and smell are familiar. It might mean trying to ensure that a rental car is similar to your car at home.  This list can be as long as you need to make it. Once you have those things figured, you have a basis from which to, gently, try something new. You might want to look at our previous post Recreation Therapy. To summarize that, look for places with lots of leisure activities so that your child can, safely, sample some new activities. If your child finds just one new activity that they enjoy and master, you’ll have a truly memorable experience too.

New experiences don’t have to be limited to leisure pursuits to be successful. Margalit Francus of Autistic Globetrotting tells the story of how her son was struggling to understand the coursework on Mayas and Aztecs at school and that this inspired the family to actually go and see for themselves and not just look at the textbooks.  The result of the trip was that it actually helped her autistic son to connect with the subject.

Family Bonding Time.  Again, the typical family finds themselves all over the place during the rest of their 24/7 lifestyle with few opportunities for quality time together. And again, that applies more to us than to most. Here is yet another reason for looking to travel with extended family or with friends that you don’t, often enough, get to spend time with.

 

Reasons why not ? There are some that come up for families living with autism that are specific. Here are the two most common.

Not wanting to share your diagnosis.  Let’s quote Margalit again. Her, informal, study says that this may be the biggest single reason that parents of children with autism are reluctant to travel. Of course, we understand and sympathize with this reluctance. On the other hand, don’t we share that diagnosis with every new teacher, social worker, therapist, etc. ? Think of, say, hotel guest services as if they were a new therapist (but without the 20-page questionnaire). They are there to help you just as much as all of those others. Additionally, now that we are 1 in 88 (or 1 in 50, depending upon which study), you’ll probably find that you end up speaking to somebody that has heard of autism and that wants to know how they can do their part to help you.

Embarrassed by meltdowns. Most of us still are, even when we try to overcome that. Here’s the point with this. A meltdown at the mall or supermarket is no less embarrassing than it will be on vacation. If meltdowns are an issue, you already live with it and it would be a pity to let it stop you from enjoying the benefits of a vacation.  You might want to consider an Autism Awareness T-shirt or similar since that, kind of, gives part of the message in subtle way. For our part, we had matching tees printed with the message “Autism Affects 1 in 88”. We didn’t hear a single “tut” !

 

These are some of the more common why’s and why not’s. What are yours ? We would love to hear from you with your take on either or both.

The BIG questions when planning a vacation.

QuestionsTaking a vacation is a project that needs careful planning for anybody. It needs even more thought for our families.

Start with the BIG questions. Who ? When ? What ? Where ? And How ? For families traveling with autism, “how” is the toughest question but finding the best answers to the others may help with answer that one. In fact, the answer to one of these questions may have an impact on the other questions.

 

Who ?  It’s obvious, isn’t it ? It’s you and your child ! (Children, if you have more than one.) Hang on a moment though.  Many families travel together with members of their extended family. If you can bring your parents, your in-laws, your brother or sister (and their family), you do two things.  You create a family gathering. More importantly, you take part of your support network with you. If family aren’t available, how about traveling with friends and their families ?

Here’s where “who” can affect “how”. What if your in-laws want to go but live on the other side of the country ? It may make arrangements a little more complex. Still do it though. That support is invaluable.

When ? For most of us, the answer is during school breaks. Those times are usually a little more crowded and they are more expensive but so much of our support is tied around the school calendar that we don’t have a lot of choice. Of course, many parents need to take account of work schedules and, if you are a teacher, you’re doubly bound by the school calendar.

“What” can certainly impact “when”. You’re not going to find much by way of snowboarding in July ! And swimming at the Jersey Shore in January may not be so much fun. Can “who” affect “when” ? It sure can. If your brother-in-law is coming and he is employed as a Mall Santa, you won’t want to go between Thanksgiving and Christmas !

What ? This has a big impact on where. Let’s use our snowboarding example again. You’re not going to want to go to Florida. More seriously, this is a truly big question. What sort of activities do you want to form part of your vacation ? It always makes sense to think this way around rather than pick a destination and then try to figure out what to do when you get there.

It may pay to take a look back to our posting about recreation as therapy(see Archives). The point that we were making there is that it will help to “sample” as many recreational activities as you can. There will be activities that just don’t work for your child but there will be some that do. If you can find a new activity where your child enjoys both success and fun, you’ll have a great vacation. So try to strike a balance. Look for activities that they already enjoy and the chance to try something new.

Where ? Part of the answer will certainly come from “what”. Match desired activities to a destination that provides them. A smaller part of the answer may come from “when”. If, as many children on the spectrum do, your child doesn’t do well with crowds, you may want to look for destinations that are “off season” at the time you are traveling.  This is one of the reasons that we think highly of some of the ski resorts in summer. They’re out of season, they’re certainly not crowded but they do offer lots of different activities in order to get people there.

“Who” could just have an impact. For you and your child, you probably want non-stop flights and it would be nice if they were shorter flights rather than longer ones. But what about those in-laws across the country ? They won’t want to come if their only option is a triple connection that takes 24 hours ! You may just need to figure a “where” that works for all concerned.

How ? This is the big one and, sorry, we just don’t have the space to answer it here. The answers here are in many of our previous postings (Flying to See Janet, Which Flight ? Which Seat ?, Airport Practice Boarding Programs, just to name a few). They are all available to you in the Archives. There will be many more answers in future postings.  If you aren’t already subscribed for our updates, this would be a good time to do so. Just fill in the form on the right side-bar.

 

If you simply can’t wait for your ”how”, call us and ask us !

How stories help you prepare for travel.

Going PlacesWe are always looking for resources that help families when traveling with autism. We found a great one with Sandbox Learning and invited Amy McGuire, their co-founder to guest blog with us here.

A couple of things struck us about this. Firstly we asked her to write about social stories. She replied that there are specific ratios to the sentences used in social stories and, since their stories are customizable, they might not comply with those ratios. So she simply calls them stories. We call her a consummate professional for being so precise.

The other thing that struck us was that she didn’t use this as an excuse to sell the Sandbox stories. We call that kind and considerate. Of course, it also means that she didn’t mention some of the specific stories that we thought relevant so we’ll do that for her. Here are just a couple:

Going Places.  Not about travel, per se, but an obvious connection.

School Breaks. Most of us take vacation during school breaks. This helps contextually.

Feeling Anxious. Many parents tell us that they worry about the anxiety that their child may experience while traveling.

Changing Activities. This includes how to deal with unexpected transitioning.

No single story covers every aspect of your child being able to take a family vacation. On the other hand, you have the freedom to pick the ones that may be relevant for your child and they teach things that will help your child in other situations beyond traveling.

Time to turn this over to Amy, with thanks.

 

Using Stories to Prepare Children for New Events or to Review Expectations

 

Children with autism often benefit from using stories to help them prepare for a new situation or to review expectations in a familiar situation. Whether the stories are written in a specific format (social stories) or are just written from the child’s perspective with information relevant to their specific needs, stories are helpful educational tools. Since children with autism often benefit from visuals, accompanying illustrations, photographs or visuals provide additional means of conveying information.

Stories should be written from a first person perspective. For example, ‘When I go visit Grandma I fly on an airplane.’  Information should be clear and at a level children can easily understand. For example, ‘I stay in my seat. I can read my books or watch videos while sitting in my seat.’ Rewards and consequences should be included in the story. For example, ‘If I use my inside voice during the flight, I can play on the tree swing at Grandma’s house.’

Review the story days before the event, the day of the event, and bring it as a reminder during the event. By preparing children and having something for them to review during the activity, expectations are clearly outlined for them.

Stories can be used to discuss virtually any topic including social skills (e.g. having conversations), behavior (e.g. following classroom rules), functional skills (e.g. bedtime routine), and specific situations (e.g. travel). Stories are available through a number of websites including Sandbox Learning(www.sandbox-learning.com) , which gives a free story about patience titled Waiting to people who register on their site. People also often make their own stories using drawings or photographs of their child.  Whether you purchase a story or make one, it can be a great tool to make travel less stressful.  Just remember regular review and discussion of the topic is important for preparing children and setting expectations.