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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.

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