Planning Ahead of Time
When planning a vacation with kids, it is important to consider their needs and interests. Choose a destination that is kid-friendly and has activities that will keep them entertained. If attending a museum, amusement park, or another attraction, ask if they have a sensory area, and if they have a wristband for quick access to rides for children with disabilities. Many places now have areas for accommodating the needs of children with disabilities. It’s common for children to have difficulty waiting for things to happen, especially when they are really excited. So, this can help. Call ahead and ask what services they have and decide if that works for your family.
Using Visual Schedules
When you are traveling with kids, it is important to have a schedule. This will help keep the kids on track and allow them to know what is going on. For a child with a disability, I suggest implementing a visual schedule of the activities, it works well if it is written out as a checklist or using pictures. Your child crosses the activity off or puts the picture in a bag when the activity is completed. Something small could be kept in a pocket or purse, and just be used when it’s time to transition to something else. Providing that prompting before a change is going to happen, helps prepare the child for it.
Creating a Safe Space
Children who are prone to sensory issues may experience certain difficulties while traveling. When they become overstimulated, it is important to have a calm and safe space for them to go. This space should be away from the source of the stimulation and should be quiet and peaceful. This might be a shaded area at a park or zoo. It could also be a dedicated room that many new facilities are creating.
It is also important to have someone there to help the child calm down and feel safe. If visiting friends or family for parties or dinner, ask if you can create a safe and calm place for your child. This should be a place away from the activities that is quiet and has a few of their favorite things.
Have Fun Items Ready
Create a box of fun activities that is only available when you are unable to give full attention to your child. The box needs to be individualized for your child with the things you know they enjoy best. For example, if your child is into playdough, get a small new activity set that can keep their interest or get their mind off of a potentially overstimulating situation. Other items that work great are: fidgets, small stuffed animals, and your child's favorite snacks. Sometimes when you are in an unfamiliar place but have familiar items nearby, it can be comforting to the child. Usually keeping these items in a backpack that you carry around from place to place can be convenient. Using the backpack for your child that may have sensory needs, to help them get some input, is a great idea as well! Sensory input is when our sensory organs respond to stimuli. In this case, the backpack is the stimuli, providing deep pressure which can often be a calming relief to many people. Think of the backpack working for your child like a weighted blanket or a massage.
Create Visuals for Everything!
If traveling by plane, create visuals of all activities, (security, showing your ticket, putting the seat belt on). Load your carry-on with their favorite items (like mentioned earlier). It also can be helpful to book a seat that has your whole family in one row. Make sure your child's seat has extra legroom. This can provide your child with space to move especially on a long flight. Make sure that your child is dressed in comfortable clothes and shoes. Perhaps bring a small weighted blanket if your child has sensory needs.
Have a visual for when your child may be agitated or upset, with reasonable choices on it to support them when they: might need a break, are hungry, or are tired. Understand that when you are on vacation there are many new and exciting experiences, but this also means there is lots of change and overstimulation that can happen as well.
Going on vacation can be very exciting! It can be a great opportunity to explore new places, meet new people, and try new things. Vacations can also be a great chance to relax and rejuvenate. Use these tips to make your vacation with your family the best it can be for everyone!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jenn Adams is a special education and elementary teacher living and work in Pennsylvania. She has taught in multiple classrooms, grade levels and settings including regular education, special education, and alternative education. She has taught grades Pre-K, 1st, and 5th-12.Currently, Jenn works for a public cyber charter school teaching students in grades 5th through 8th in an autistic support virtual classroom. Jenn obtained her Bachelor’s degree in elementary and early childhood education in 2007 from Millersville University. She also obtained her Master’s degree in 2014 in special education from Saint Joseph’s University. Jenn also added the credentials of becoming a registered behavior technician (RBt) working closely with students with autism and intellectual disabilities working with principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Lastly, Jenn is currently pursuing her principal’s certificate from California University of PA. In her 14 years in education she truly has found that building relationships is what needs to come first and loves learning new ways to reach her students. During her time not spent in the classroom Jenn conducts parent training with colleagues in the special education field and provides information through her blog, website, and social media channels all called Teach Love Autism. Jenn also works hard every day to find a work and life balance and believes that is the key to happiness in doing what you love.
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