Archives for November 2013

10 Things to Take With You.

Sensory ShieldIf you need us to remind you about taking things like clothing (appropriate to destination, of course) or toiletries or travel documents, then it’s been a really, really long time since you took a vacation ! Stop reading and call us now ! Otherwise, we’ll focus this on things that are specific for kids on the spectrum.

1. The Autism Passport.  This document gives you a way to communicate your child’s individual needs to your hotel/resort/cruise ship. It lets you describe your child’s communication and sensory needs to those service providers. It makes sense to send it in advance of your arrival in addition to carrying a copy with you.

This can be printed on both sides of a letter-sized piece of paper and folded down the middle to make a small booklet. Click here for printable PDF

Just to “toot our own horn”, we developed the Autism Passport and are thrilled that it has been so well received wherever it’s been used.

2. Social Stories. If your child makes good use of social stories for activities at home, you will be able to make great use of them for vacation. Enlist the help of whoever did those other stories to prepare something for Getting There, whether by road, rail or air, and for what you are going to do when you get there: playing on the beach or in the pool, dining out, riding in theme parks, trail biking … whatever you have planned.

3. Favorite Snacks. This makes sense even if your child doesn’t have special dietary needs. Of course, if they do have a special diet, you may not want to chance a hunt for, say, GFCFSF snacks in a strange town/state/country. No matter what, snacks that you know to be favorites will be better than having to make do with “best available”. And you never know when you’ll need them. Maybe a take-off delay at the airport or a lack of suitable places to make a stop while on the road ?

4. Medications. If your child takes medications, you’ll certainly remember to bring them but think just a little further. Take a bigger supply than you would need for the number of days that you are away. Lose just 1 pill, in any one of a dozen ways that it could happen, and you’re suddenly calling around to get a prescription filled ?

If your child also needs a PRN medication, remember that there may be more occasions when you’ll need these than you might have at home. Take plenty.

5. iPad. Whatever did we do before we had these ? They are portable. You have all of your child’s favorite apps with you. If you have a couple of favorites that tend to absorb or calm your child, you may be really thankful for having them with you. It may also make sense to download a couple of new apps that you think that your child will enjoy based upon what you know already works. Something new may take more time to master and be more absorbing.

Don’t forget to take the charger !

6. Favorite toys or games. Even when you remember to take that charger, there will be times when the iPad needs recharging. Additionally, when flying, there is a period during take-off and landing when electronic devices are not allowed. Look at those favorite toys and games and pick the ones that are easily portable. (Leave the pool table at home, no matter how well favored !)

7. Headphones. We described some of the problems with unfamiliar noises in our post Protecting Sensitive Ears. Headphones will, obviously, be useful if music is soothing and you have that IPad. If music doesn’t work or you don’t use an iPad, there are noise-cancelling headphones that you can purchase inexpensively from sporting goods/hunting stores.

8. Child-proofing Kit. Is your child an escape-artist ? Do they wander off ? Travel-Tot of New Jersey have a portable child-proofing kit that may help. Everything in it is easy attach/easy remove and, therefore, suitable for use in places like hotel rooms.

9. Child ID. This also applies if you have a wanderer. There are 2 things that you might need. First you’ll need something that stays with the child which identifies them and gives your cell phone number. Card, bracelet, something attached to clothing ? There are plenty of choices out there.

It is also a sensible precaution to have an up-to-date description sheet with a recent photo, your child’s current height and weight and, again, your emergency contact details. If your child does wander off, you have something to give to security staff in order to assist with searching for them.

10. The Sensory Shield. Strictly speaking, you can’t take this with you yet since it is still in the final stages of prototype testing. When, however, The Sensory Shield Airplane Seat Partition is ready, it will be really useful as a transportable barrier to unwanted sensory input on the plane. We’ve followed the progress of Lisa Daly, who developed this, based upon her own experiences and wants to make it available to everybody. The device is approved by both the FAA and TSA so that you have no worries when you do take it. It is pictured at the top of this post.

Did we cover everything that you might need for your child ? Probably not.  Are some of these things just not applicable to you child ? Probably so.

Your child is unique and has their individual needs. It is really a question of knowing those needs and matching them with what to expect while on vacation. Pick up the phone, call us and let us help you develop your list whether that’s 10 things or 20.

Change Happens.

TPPWhen asking the general population why they take a vacation, two answers predominate. The biggest reason given is to get a break from stress. But the # 2 answer is “to gain new experiences”. Wow ! That can sometimes be a huge challenge for our kids, can’t it ?

A break from stress. Yes, we do need that more than most. If the 24/7 lifestyle is what everybody else is experiencing, ours is more like 36/8 and a break from this will help us which, in turn, will help our children. Do you remember the part of a flight safety presentation where they tell you that, when it happens, you should put your oxygen mask on before helping others ? There’s a very good reason for that. You won’t be able to help anybody very much if you don’t.   The same thing applies to taking a break. If we don’t do that, we actually reduce our capacity to help our kids.

New experiences ? For many children, on the spectrum, almost anything out of the regular routine can be a challenge. A vacation, almost by definition, is a change of routine. That said we live in a constantly changing world and cannot possibly isolate our children from all of the changes.

In our daily lives, we try to keep regular, and comforting, routines in place so that we can help our children cope with changes that are unavoidable. When taking a vacation, you need to use that same strategy. How ?

Very often, social stories help. Depending upon who is preparing the story, you may be able to have it point to things that will be just like their regular routine alongside showing what is going to be different and how to react to those differences. Do you use social stories for other things with your child ? Who generates them ? Can they do it for this purpose ?

Going to the airport, and getting through it, are definitely not routine. We’ve previously written about Airport Practice Boarding Programs and will update that information soon. When we do that, we’ll also tackle what to do if there are no programs near to you.

Whether you drive to your vacation destination or fly, it will take some time. There are some things that you can do in order to keep things “familiar” during that time. Start with your iPad (or similar) device. Lots of kids have these and make great use of them. These are familiar to your child from home and they are portable ! If your child uses one, it is an essential for your vacation. Of course, you need a non-electronic equivalent for when the device is recharging or for take-off and landing on the aircraft when use of electronic devices isn’t allowed. The same principle applies. Look for the more portable items among the things that your child enjoys and take some with you.

If your vacation involves renting a car, you can try to rent something that is similar to your car at home. If you drive a compact, rent a compact. If you drive a min-van, rent a mini-van. You probably won’t be able to get the exact same make and model at you drive at home. Just make it as familiar as possible.  In many locations Alamo/National rents you a car in the desired class and then tells you to pick out any car that you want in the row for that class. This may help you to find something that is “right color” as well as “right size”.

Staying at a hotel can hardly be described as routine either. If you think that this may be a struggle for your child, you can always “practice” with an overnight stay at a hotel that is local to you. This can be taken a stage further when you plan to stay with one of the bigger national, or international, brands. Even though they vary somewhat from property to property, most of them try to build and furnish to a common standard. They’re trying to establish a uniform standard for their whole brand. You get to use that uniformity to help your child make the hotel room a little bit closer to routine.

Some kids on the spectrum aren’t such good sleepers. If this is the case, you might try bringing a pillow and pillow case from home. It may even pay to bring sheets from home. You can either pack them, if you have room, or ship them ahead to your hotel and ask them to hold the package for your arrival. You might also bring along a couple of other portable items from your child’s bedroom. Do they have a night-light ? That should be easy to bring along. Take a look at other items, toys in particular, that may help.

Here’s a thought that catches quite a few people by surprise. What about change of season ? If, just for example, you leave North Dakota in February for a vacation in the Caribbean, you won’t be putting your child in winter coats and snow boots ! If you’re going to have a change of season like this, it may just help to crank up the heating up home a couple of times and re-familiarize your child with summer clothing.

There are dozens more little things that you can do. Which of them you actually need to do will depend entirely on your unique child. Nobody knows your child better than you.  Think ahead. Think portable.

Once you’ve done whatever needs to be done to make things a little more familiar, you’ll be ready for two things. Firstly, you’ll be better placed to deal with unfamiliar things that come up and that you hadn’t anticipated. Secondly, you’ll be in a better position to deliberately try some new things that your child might enjoy and will surprise you by doing so.