Archives for February 2014

Taking Your Picky Eater on Vacation.

bigstock-Question-mark-made-of-peas-on--48090659Eating can be a daily challenge with a child on the spectrum. It can be even more challenging when there are co-occurring conditions such as allergies, GI problems. Then there are those that need gluten-free or other specific dietary interventions. On top of all of these issues, lots of kids on the spectrum are picky, or even extremely picky eaters.

We’ll address some possible things that you can do with your picky eater. When it comes to GI issues, allergies or dietary interventions, you must still seek the advice of the relevant professional that you currently use. Do tell your GI specialist/allergist/nutritionist about your vacation plans and see what advice they may have that can help you.

Even without those issues, you may well face considerable challenges with a child that will only eat a very limited selection of foods. Here we can offer some suggestions.

At the extreme, you could restrict yourself to renting a vacation home. The upside here is that you should get a fully equipped kitchen. If it’s a vacation rental home within the US, supermarkets and food stores should be similar to those at home. Before booking, you could even contact property management to inquire about local shopping. If you are still unsure about the local stores, you might ship some items from home to arrive ahead of you.

What’s the downside, then? The big and obvious drawback is that you’ll end up doing all of the food preparation just as you do at home and that this will limit the extent to which your vacation is a break for you. If you take your vacation at a vacation home outside of the US, the shopping will be more challenging.

If you stay at a resort, there is a resource that will help you. The title may vary but you are looking for the Food and Beverage Manager. This is the person with overall management responsibility for the restaurants and bars at their establishment. Start by asking for the Food and Beverage Manager but speak to whomever fills this role, regardless of formal title.

Explain your child’s issues and limitations to this person and ask them to tell you whether they can cater to those needs. They have every reason to be straight and honest with you. They are not looking to attract problems that they can’t resolve. Have this conversation before booking something. You are not looking, yet, at a meal-by-meal plan. You’re looking for the assurance that you child’s needs can be met.

What do you do if the property tells you that you may only speak to the Food and Beverage Manager if you already have a booking and won’t let you do so until you do? In this instance, you should probably move on to some other establishment that will do this for you. (Alternately you could pick up the phone to us. We haven’t, yet, been denied such access.)

Your conversation with the Food and Beverage Manager doesn’t end with that first contact. In fact, it’s just the beginning. Once you do have a firm booking, and in advance of arrival, ask for a point of contact on-site. This may be something that the manager needs to delegate. You are looking here for somebody that will help you with day-by-day, meal-by-meal plans and who can help you with answers to each specific question.

If you find a chef that is particularly helpful, you may get a totally unexpected bonus from this. You are generally dealing with talented and experienced food professionals. Even if your child has a very limited diet, they may be able to suggest other food items that might work well. If, for instance, part of the pickiness is textural, they may be able to suggest something that is different but still meets this need. Apply that same thought to smell, taste or any other variable. Anything is possible within your child’s tolerance of trying something slightly new. If you come back with some additional items that your picky eater will accept, this will truly be a bonus.

Of course, be sure when doing this that you aren’t ordering and, consequently, paying for an endless string of rejected meals. You need to agree something along the lines of “try it before you buy it”. That precaution won’t be necessary if you stay at an all-inclusive resort since all of the food is, by definition, prepaid.

Lastly, there are quite a number of properties where you can achieve a “hybrid” of the two main approaches here. These would be resorts that typically offer suites rather than rooms and have some degree of kitchen facility within the suite. This will vary from a mini-fridge and small microwave to a full kitchen that is much like the one you would find in a vacation rental home.

This way, you can still ask for help from the Food and Beverage Manager but have the option of using kitchen facilities in your suite as a further resource.

Taking a Practice Vacation.

Autism Friendly CARD CropMany parents of children with ASD tell us that they are somewhere between worried and terrified when they think of taking a vacation. If this is you, your concerns are quite natural. If new things and the unknown are a potential issue, then a week in a strange place could seem daunting.  There are plenty of things that you can do in advance in order to decrease your worries/terror but what are they?

As with so many other things of the more regular challenges that you face, some advance practice will help when it comes to the real thing. But how do you practice a vacation? Let’s break it down into some of its components.

Flights. We covered some possibilities with a prior post on Practice Boarding Programs. For details of that post, click here. We are currently in touch with all of the providers of these programs and will soon be publishing an update.

Dining Out. This can sometimes be a challenge. We covered this topic a while back with a guest posting from parent coach Connie Hammer. For details of that post, click here. That was an excellent piece and would add one further suggestion. Practice by using one of the popular chain restaurants. For example, if there is an Olive Garden at your chosen destination you can be confident that it will be very similar to your local Olive Garden. Pick your own chain. We are not endorsing any particular brand.

Staying in a hotel. At its simplest, book a night at any local hotel and give it a try. If it’s local, then getting there isn’t a problem. It should also be relatively easy to find a date when their rates are lowest so that the cost is kept within bounds.

Hotels vary, of course and you could use the “chain” logic from above. Most of the big hotel chains put a lot of effort into trying to ensure that their product is consistent from location to location.

But wouldn’t it be even better if you knew in advance that the hotel was autism-friendly? Of course it would. It would be absolutely superb if you could find that autism-friendly hotel and get a really good “practice” rate, wouldn’t it? There is and we found it.

You do have a chance to do a short-stay at an autism-friendly hotel and at an exceptionally good rate.

The Crowne Plaza in Tampa, Florida has been designated Autism-friendly by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of South Florida (USF). We asked them for a very special rate for families with ASD to be able to practice and they gave us just that for the weekend of June 27th.

Since CARD have done such a great job with inspecting local businesses and training them in how to assist guests with autism, it turns out that some great local attractions have also been designated autism-friendly via their program. They include the Florida Aquarium, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Dinosaur World and the Glazer Children’s Museum. When we contracted each of them, they were delighted to offer special, reduced rates for anybody doing the Practice Vacation at Crowne Plaza that weekend.

Click here to take a look at all of the details. We worked on this to enable you to have the chance to practice a vacation under the best possible circumstances. If you need help getting there, contact us. We will be delighted to help you.

Take your village with you on vacation.

bigstock-Hand-in-hand-19677104It takes a village. When we are raising special needs children, we probably need our particular village more than most. If we rely on that support at home, it will help to have some of it while on vacation. We’re not suggestion here that you take the whole village! But let’s look at some members that could accompany you. Here are a couple of possibilities.

Your Parents. They are, of course, your child’s grandparents and that makes them a good starting point when looking for somebody to vacation with you. The pluses are that they know and love your child. With luck they interact enough at home that they are a very real source of support. With further luck, they will pay their own way or even assist you with some part of your cost. One potential downside is that one spouse’s parents are, by definition, the other’s parents-in-law. There are a million mother-in-law jokes out there. If yours served as the inspiration for a half million, you need to look at some of the other suggestions below.

Other Family. As with grandparents, your child’s aunts and uncles may already be a significant part of your support network. Again, with luck, there’s a good chance that they will shoulder their part of the cost. That is a little less likely to apply with your nieces and nephews if they are school or college students but, if you can subsidize them a little, they may be a very real source of support. Additionally if they are students, their breaks will coincide with your child’s school breaks. If you are really, really lucky you have a relative who is a teacher. They need to vacation during school breaks just as you do and their expertise is dealing with children.

Getting Family There. Very few of us live in a physical village anymore and it is perfectly possible that your extended family live clear across the country from you. That doesn’t have to be a barrier. It just needs a little more planning when it comes to having everybody get to the same place at the same time. That isn’t difficult. Of course, we do this for clients all the time. One note of caution on this. You may strain some of your family relationships if you pick a destination that is a short non-stop flight for you but requires 3 connecting flights over many, many hours for your family! You’ll need to plan on a destination that makes sense for everybody.

The other thing that can be really great, if your family is dispersed like that, is that you get to enjoy a family reunion and have fun doing so.

Friends.  Your friends are, probably, local to you. Your children probably know their children. Traveling with friends can be enormous fun and you may get the chance to take turns with all of the children and, therefore, have turns of getting a break. There will be a difference between traveling with friends who have typically developing children and friends who also have children with special needs. Either case can still be wonderful. You just need to think a little in advance about the interactions. If you do wish to vacation with friends who live a long way away, just apply the same thinking as above.

Members of a local support group. Here, almost certainly, you’ll be traveling with others who face issues that are similar to yours. There are a couple of really great things about this. The first is acceptance. They know that if your child has a meltdown due to sensory overload that this is exactly what it is. They won’t be muttering about bad behavior because they’ve been there, they’ve done that and they have the tee-shirt!

The other really great thing about traveling with another family from a local support group is that it can help to tighten the bonds within the group. We actively encourage you to ask members of whichever groups where you belong, if they would consider vacationing with you.

So, in summary, who are your villagers and which ones will make for good traveling companions and good support?