Sometimes families must travel for special events. You can pick and choose some of the special travel for your family, but some of it will be unavoidable. Plan ahead to avoid easily prevented frustrations.
Weddings and Funerals
No humor intended, weddings and funerals have some similarities for the child with special needs:
These events are short, very intense encounters with lots of people. You should look for a place of quiet regrouping away from the crowds.
They can disrupt your child's eating routine. Come armed with simple snacks (to be eaten at an appropriate time).
They might be difficult for your child to understand. Bring some quiet activities (books, crayons and paper, calming music on an iPod, a stress ball).
They require special, uncomfortable clothing. Choose something appropriate for your child to wear, but pick your battles. It won't be the end of the world if he wears a nice but comfortable shirt instead of a collar and tie.
They require certain social behaviors: quiet talking or no talking, at least basic response during conversations, and patient waiting. Talk with your child ahead of time about expected behavior.
Of course, there are some differences between weddings and funerals. You should have a plan for a wedding reception. If you and your spouse plan to stay for a long reception, you may wish to make arrangements for child care.
The funeral of a family member calls for extra care and attention. If your child is mature enough to visit the funeral home, plan to go at a time when there will be fewer people. For the funeral, sit in a place that will allow an inconspicuous exit if needed.
Many children with special needs, particularly those on the autism spectrum or with behavior disorders, thrive on routine. These children depend on routine to help them predict what will happen. Without it, they may be overwhelmed by not knowing how to react in new situations. You can ease the change in routine that comes with holiday travel by doing the following:
Preparing your child by talking about the who, what, where, and when of the visit. Mark her activity calendar and use family pictures to make it visual.
Creating a visit routine that includes a sleep schedule and a balance of fun activities and quiet time.
Taking along some comforts of home. Snacks and favorite toys can help your child deal with so many unfamiliar things happening around her.
Talking to Grandma ahead of time. Explain the kind of routines that work so that she is not offended when your child really needs a nap, but Grandma wants to visit Santa for pictures at a crowded mall.
Cutting yourself some slack. A busy holiday visit will bring some unexpected happenings and not all will be pleasant. Look for the positives and enjoy the visit.
To a lesser degree, children with hearing loss and those with ADHD are also dependent on routine. Special activities and travel at the holidays can be frustrating and overwhelming for these kids and consequently for their families.
When planning holiday travel, be aware that your child may easily get to the “on overload” point. It seems like a trip to Grandma's out of state with five cousins will be fun. Take extra measures to increase the chances of that fun happening.
Travel to a family reunion can be a great way to see lots of relatives at once, but the sheer numbers can be overwhelming for your child. Following the guidelines for holiday travel can help. There are two additional keys to family reunion visits.
Use family photos to talk to your child about an upcoming visit with family or friends. The photos can include people and the places you will visit. Remembering the fish aquarium at Uncle Joe's or the slide in Cousin Jake's backyard can help your child look for the familiar upon arrival, instead of feeling overwhelmed that everything is new.
First, make sure that you have your child's comfort foods in tow. Even if she does not have special dietary needs, she may not be prepared for Aunt Sally's spicy pasta salad and Cousin Lizzie's pickled beets. Remember that the foods you loved while growing up will most likely be foreign to your child. Having some familiar favorites will help her smile as her cheeks are pinched and she hears yet again how much she has grown.
Second, plan for a quiet place for your child to rest and pull herself together. It does not matter if she is five or 15, having a place to get away from the reunion hubbub will make it more enjoyable for everyone. The quiet place might be a room away from the family action, a nearby relative's home, or even a quiet hotel room.