We are heading out for a week long vacation tomorrow. Yay us! Lots of vacation memories have flooded my mind this week as I have prepared for this vacation. Packing for vacation is a breeze, now. Hubby packs his and I pack mine, give Kaitlin her list and then I double check her packing. Pretty simple, NOW, but you know when you toss in a young child with Autism and go on vacation, the game changes!
Is a family vacation even possible when you have a young child with Autism? Sometimes that answer is just a flat out NO for some families. When faced with that situation where the whole family can not go on vacation together, there are lots of options. One really great option is to find an appropriate respite or camp situation for your child with Autism for a week and the rest of the family can go and enjoy a week of fun too. When Kaitlin was really young she could not tolerate traveling for long periods of time in a car nor the sound of the ocean. She really LOVED camp though! It was a win-win time for us and we learned to not feel guilty about those separate vacations when she enjoyed a week at camp and we took her older sister to the beach.
So maybe family vacations are possible, but you know there are going to be bumps on the way. How do you make it smoother? Take your structure with you! Prepare for the vacation by using a social story ahead of time. The social story can highlight some of the events that are expected to happen during the vacation. I suggest that you add visuals into the story that will make the story interesting to your child. You can read this before the trip, on the trip and after the trip to remember the vacation by. I would also take along any picture schedules and other portable forms of structure you have or could make. Use a daily check off form to write in activities and have your child check off the activities as they are completed. Add just one or two activities at a time, in case there are changes.
Pack familiar items from home that bring comfort. Be ready for lots of down time! Being in a different place, with lots of different sensory input can make for lots of overload for our kids with Autism, so build in that downtime. I promise you that it will be needed. Do2Learn has lots of games that can be played with just a deck of cards (if your child is older) and/or a few other items you can bring along. So while you are planning checkout these "Homemade Games" and note the skills that your child will learn while having fun!
Lastly, breathe, it's vacation. You are there to relax and have fun. No battles on vacation...remember you may have to be the one that is the most flexible. If you find you spend your days doing nothing but watching the waves when the plans were originally to visit amusement park after amusement park, remember it's vacation and you are going to be rested!