Travelling With Children On and Off The Spectrum.
That’s what I do and what I like to do. I love to travel with my husband and kids. Yes, you read that right. I love family vacations – usually after the fact, when I am back at home, breathing again and realizing what we just accomplished. It is definitely not and never has been easy, but we will always have the experiences, lessons and memories. We have been travelling with our four children since they were babies. Four boys, all unique, challenging and special in their own ways. Amongst all of them, I have to factor in the following characteristics:
- Gluten free and dairy free dietary restrictions
- Ulcerative colitis restrictions
- Fear of heights, crowds, darkness & loud noises
- Limited attention spans
In addition to these family quirks and traits, I am a somewhat neurotic, controlling, obsessive person that strives to please all and do it all. We are quite the reality show to watch and hear. I am often asked why and how I do it. Well, let me try to explain.
I have decided that I am going to do and make the best life that I can with what I have been given. That includes acceptance of the fact that our family has challenges and struggles. Autism is a tough card to be dealt with. So are many of the other developmental delays and health issues that exist. We can choose to remain indoors and hide or we can hold our chins up with the knowledge that less understanding people will stare at us, talk about us, and laugh at us as we venture out and about. It happens. We remind our children that not all people are created equally nor treated equally and that public meltdowns, tantrums, and outbursts will definitely attract attention. But they are inevitable.
I try to plan as best as I can for our travels.
It is a fact that we need to bring a lot of stuff with us (although less than before since I no longer have strollers or baby toys).
“Snacks” for everyone because feeding time is often when travelling and our children have highly restrictive diets that cannot easily be accommodated on the go;
Games for 2 that are easy to transport and play such as magnetic travel games, card games, and self contained games;
Electronics and chargers for each and every family member;
4. Extra clothes
Extra clothes because inevitably someone will have some kind of accident and need to change his (all males in my family except for me) clothes;
Wipes and hand sanitizer are necessities for obvious reasons;
Sad but true, we have 3 separate weekly medicine containers that are always with us as well as a medicine box of “just in case” items for cuts, colds, earaches, coughs, allergy attacks, etc.
7. Fidget and calming
Things are good to have on hand to distract and occupy time and attention when tensions rise and patience disappears. Throwing in something new and unexpected really helps.
8. Personal security items.
I used to pack a separate bag for each child’s individual “must have” items but now we have progressed to the point where they each pack their own! Certain prized possessions just must be with us at all times apparently!
If you would like to go away and relax, lie on a beach somewhere and just chill, we are not your travel companions! Our family needs to be engaged for a majority of the day and so I always research and plan an itinerary/schedule of things to do and see.
1. Attractions – there is always something to see and some place to go. And often the simplest, most basic sights can be fun. Recently, we went on a road trip and stopped at the Monument of States in Florida. Not overly exciting but we managed to spend an hour there just enjoying the area, running around outside, and creating our own entertainment.
2. Eating – no matter where we go or what we do, I am a stickler at making sure that we eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the appropriate times and of decent quality. It may hamper our entertainment and activity schedules but the benefits outweigh the negatives. Gotta have a somewhat healthy sit down meal.
3. Sleeping – even while away from home, we strive to have our children go to bed at a reasonable hour because, no matter what, they will all rise early in the a.m. to start again. It works for us.
4. Relieving – oddly enough, it is important that we are in and around a clean, comfortable bathroom during the day to keep all of our boys regular and happy!
We talk to our children …. A LOT! We have discovered that they do much better at handling new places and situations when they are prepared and ready for them. Small references and comments weeks and days in advance helps to ease the transition. Pictures, books and movies are also a plus.
We talk about the types of places that we will be visiting, the accommodations in which we will be staying, the mode of transportation that we will be using, the sleeping arrangements, and the clothing necessary. Simple factors which can make or break a trip. All items that some families just take for granted that their kids will adapt to but that greatly can affect our children.
At home, our family of 6 rarely spends quality time together because of everyone’s different schedules, needs, schools, etc. So, at the start of all of our family adventures, I plead with my children to please try to be patient with one another, get along, have fun and enjoy the time together. Sounds like a simple request, right?
But, it is not always so easy! We are faced with different ages, maturity levels, interests and personalities. It is a lesson of self control, self regulation, empathy and understanding throughout the day. It is time to take pleasure in seeing, being and making each other happy just by being together. These are moments and memories that we will have forever. Sometimes our boys get silly, crazy, giddy and I love it! They are forever bonding and learning about each other.
Family travels are an experience, with and without children who are on the autism spectrum. My best advice to newbies is to take it slow. First plan a field trip outing. Then plan a half day trip, working up to a full day out of the house. From there, move on to an overnight adventure and so on. Congratulate yourself every step of the way for the most minor of accomplishments, for holding yourself together and for making the effort to do this.
Smile or ignore the people who stare, sneer or complain. They are not our problem and we will most likely never see them again anyway!!!
Kimmy Katari, mom to 4 amazing boys