Welcome to part two of my series, Getting Out and Having Fun with an Autistic Child. In my last installment, we discussed the importance of knowing limits and dealing with sensory issues. Rule #1 was to know your child’s limits and now, we move on to rule #2.
Rule #2: Plan Well
If your child is like mine, they thrive on schedules. My son always wants to know what is coming next and when. Having a schedule helps him feel grounded and reduces anxiety for him. When it comes to getting out and having fun, schedules play a major part in several different ways. First, they help you decide when it’s best to go and they also help you plan a smoother trip. For your child, they can provide a sense of security and lessen anxiety. Use schedules to your advantage when you plan your trip to ensure a smoother day out. Additionally, there are different ways you can use planning for both day trips and vacations to your advantage.
Planning Day Trips
The first way planning comes into play is knowing how your child’s disposition matches different times of day, or seasons if you are planning a trip. My son doesn’t mind waking up early to go somewhere, but he hates staying out late. As a result, we plan our outings to get home at a decent time while leaving earlier in the day. Another factor to keep in mind is meal times. My son hates skipping meals so we try our best to make sure he gets meals at fairly regular times even when we are out and about.
The other part of planning is being aware of what is going on at your destination. For example, we tend to shy away from Brookfield Zoo in the heat of summer or during holiday weekends, because these are the busiest times to visit. Instead, we visit more often during cooler weather when the crowds are lighter and the animals are actually more active. When we pick out a destination for a day trip, I pull up the website for the destination and check their event calendar before we cement our plans. If there’s a big event going on, we either reschedule or pick a different activity.
Finally, when it comes to vacations we try to put both of these factors first in our planning. We have traveled quite a bit, and we have never had a disaster vacation because of the way we plan. We know crowds are an issue, and we try to research our destinations to see what kind of accommodations they offer. We are not shy about picking up a disability pass when offered. I know some people feel guilt or shame about being able to skip lines due to a disability. My answer to that is, don’t be ashamed they would not offer the passes if there was not a valid reason to offer them. Your child faces many challenges daily and when someone offers to make your life easier, jump on it. You face more obstacles than other parents and there is no shame in taking a helping hand, especially if it results in your child being able to get more enjoyment out of an activity. Not to give too much away, but the next article in this series will give additional details on this topic.
The other key to planning a successful vacation is having a willingness to travel during the off-season. The first time I took my kids out of school for vacation I was hesitant. I actually went in and talked to special needs coordinator because I was feeling like a bad parent. She told me flat out to take the kids on vacation, enjoy it and don’t stress about school. She pointed out that in a couple years my son will still remember that trip to Disney World. He won’t always recall what he did during an ordinary week at school the same way he will that trip. Now, keep in mind you should still try to schedule around important dates at school and make the trip as least intrusive as possible. I wouldn’t take him out during finals, but I would take advantage of weeks that are already shortened by holidays or teacher institute days. Also, communication with the school is vital in this situation. We let the school know as soon as we begin planning and remind them a month and two weeks before the trip. For each of our trips, the schools have been amazingly supportive and have helped gather homework before the trip so he can work on it while we travel.
By traveling in the off season you gain several advantages. First, if you’re going to Florida you get better weather. Having been to Disney in May, August, September, October and February, I will tell you that you cannot beat the fall and winter for a trip there. May and August were oppressive and tiring, but the cool days in October and February were amazing. It was warm enough to swim every day, but cool enough that we did not dissolve into a puddle of sweat the moment we walked out the door. The second advantage was the crowds are small. With smaller crowds, you find yourself less likely to even need accommodations that are offered. Going back to the Disney World example, May vs. February was the difference between lines for Space Mountain being 120 minutes vs. 20-25 minutes on average. While beaches and other destinations might not have lines, this still translates into having less people around and a more relaxing trip.
Four Basic Planing Tips:
- Know your child’s reaction to times of day and seasons
- Know your destination’s event schedule
- Be aware of accommodations that may be offered
- Don’t be afraid to travel during the offseason.