The experience got me thinking…what is a vacation? While this was admittedly a “big” vacation, at least for my family, complete with flying, staying in hotels, and eating in restaurants, I know from experience that this isn’t the only way to vacation.
I’m guessing each person has their own definition of “vacation.” For me, a vacation is time away from my usual daily routine and responsibilities…even if it means staying home. Usually vacation means time with loved ones, whether just my husband, or with our children, or as we did last week, with extended family or friends. I don’t believe vacations have to cost a lot of money. Our family often stays home and does “day trips” to museums or hiking at area parks. Sometimes we’ve made those “mystery trips” to add to the excitement. And other times, our “vacations” consist of staying home to complete projects around the house, or just to relax. Even when we’re far from home, we often purchase groceries at the store and eat in our hotel room to save on the cost of dining in restaurants.
For some people, the thought of vacations is difficult or painful. They might be alone and not have people to vacation with them. They may not have extra funds to travel or do special things. They might not be able to get away from their work or other responsibilities. The presence of disabilities or diagnoses such as autism might also make vacationing difficult for an individual or his/her family, either because it’s too uncomfortable to step away from familiar routines, or because sensory issues wreak havoc in unfamiliar places, or the logistics of dietary, physical, or other needs are too hard to work around.
There are steps we can take to make vacations more possible (and pleasant) with young children or with individuals with autism. I packed a little bag of “fidgets” and snacks for my two younger children last week. It kept them occupied when we were traveling. (Click here to check out The Gray Center’s fidget selection).
I watched Disneyland videos with my toddler so that he would be familiar with the music and other sights and sounds of the theme park while we were there. It was fun to see him recognize some of the characters and rides when we arrived! I took him to a train station as a passenger train was arriving and departing a few days before our trip so that he would be comfortable being around the commuter train that we rode in California.
Social Stories™ can help prepare young travelers for changes in routine, or provide information about things they will see and do while on vacation. Carol Gray collaborated on Stories related to practicing flying, which can be found on the web site of the Philadelphia International Airport. Social Stories™ can also be used to prepare a child for what will stay the same during vacation (a great way to decrease anxiety), or to celebrate achievements (which should constitute 50% of all Stories written).
Building in time to rest, or a quiet place away from noise and chaos, or even sensory activities such as heavy lifting, pulling, and pushing (enlist their help with the luggage!), as well as finding ways to structure your time so that it doesn’t feel too chaotic or unpredictable, can also be helpful.
Sometimes a family might need respite services in order to vacation away from their son or daughter with autism. Some organizations provide that service, but sometimes extended family or other community members are able to help.
How about you? If you have other tips/suggestions, or know of other helpful resources, or even if you’d like to answer the question, “What is a vacation?” I hope you’ll comment on Facebook or on here on this blog.
Whether you’re working or vacationing, I hope you’ll have a wonderful week!