Preparing for a Spring Break with a Child with Special Needs: Tips and Strategies
As we head into the last months of winter, many children (and parents) are counting down the days until Spring Break. Children are excited about having time off from school and many families have the opportunity to travel and have new experiences. When you have a child with autism or other special needs, this time can present unique challenges. Taking time to do some extra planning pre-spring break can help ensure happy life-long memories of this cherished time together. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a Spring Break your entire family can enjoy.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for spring break is to plan ahead. Routine is key to helping your child with autism manage their emotions and behavior. Keep your child’s spring break schedule as similar to their school/daily schedule as possible. Plan to have meals, snacks, and bedtime as close to the time your child usually engages in these activities. This may not always be possible, but sticking to a familiar routine as best as you can provides a baseline of reassurance to ground your child while traveling, vacationing in a new place, visiting with friends/family, or just spending more unstructured time at home than usual.
When planning, make sure to check for closures and scheduled maintenance so you can let your child know ahead of time if their favorite ride is going to be closed. Keep it simple and plan for lots of breaks in the itinerary if possible. It’s also a good idea to create an exit strategy plan ahead of time. That way if things go wrong during an activity, you have a strategy in place to exit quickly, quietly, and gracefully.
Choose appropriate activities
Whether you’re planning a vacation or a staycation, make a list of spring break activities ahead of time that you and your child can enjoy together. Include your child in the planning and let them have input on how you decide to spend your days while on vacation. Look for opportunities to incorporate your child’s interests and hobbies and how these activities will fit best into your child’s routine. Be sure to choose activities that are appropriate for your child’s abilities and sensory needs. If visiting a popular site or attraction, see if they offer disability passes or have a sensory-friendly time to visit. Find quiet spaces where your child can take breaks and recharge. Taking breaks throughout the day can help both you and your child feel more calm and relaxed.
Create a visual schedule
Children with autism often benefit from visual aids to help them understand and follow routines. Break down the planned trip or activity to help your child understand exactly what will be happening. Include specific details so your child knows where they’re going, when the activity is taking place, what will be happening during the activity, and who is going to be joining you. Take advantage of online resources like relevant youtube videos, virtual tours, and google maps to help your child become familiar with your plans. Creating a visual schedule that outlines the details of your daily activities can help your child feel more in control and confident about the day’s events.
Bring comfort items
When traveling or visiting new places, it’s important to bring comfort items for your child. These could include favorite toys, blankets, books, or other items your child finds soothing like noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses. Having these items can help your child feel more comfortable and secure in unfamiliar environments. Pack extras of essential items and bring a list to make sure they all make it back home with you.
Inform others about your child’s needs
Let new people you meet know about the needs of your family. When you explain in advance sometimes, they will make accommodations like reducing wait times or adjusting seating arrangements. When people are aware they are usually more understanding in general.
When traveling or participating in group activities, it’s important to inform others about your child’s needs. Let teachers, camp counselors, or hotel staff know about your child’s autism and any specific needs they may have. This can help ensure that your child receives the appropriate support and accommodations.
Get support and be patient
Despite your best planning, everything may not go according to plan. Be flexible and prepared to adapt and adjust your plans as needed to accommodate your child’s needs. Seek out support. If you are planning on staying home, reach out to friends or family members who can provide additional support during the break.
A little extra preparation can go a long way toward making this Spring Break a time of safe, fun, and excitement for all of your loved ones! So what are you waiting for, start planning!
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