travelling with Autistic children
Learn, learn learn. I love to learn and learning from my mistakes is the greatest thing once I can see the success of the changes we make. Our big Family Trip 3 has not long happened and really feel this was such a fantastic success that I am happy to share our tips in hopes that is helps others. We suffer the pain while you all get all the gains.
After Family Trip 2, we realised that we needed to get both boys to understand where we were going to be going, and give them more of an explanation of things to help settle their little minds to rest. The eldest loves to know everything about what he is going to do, when he is doing it, how long it will take, what time it starts and finishes and the purpose of any plans. So for him, we knew a plan of action was needed. The youngest, for the most part, is ok with something new. He is always up for anything as he wants to do something “new” all the time, but with his lack of understanding of time and with both boys rarely being able to understand that the world does not revolve around only them and their singular needs at any moment in time, our plan would need to take place over time to get them both gradually ready for the new trip.
We made the choice that since the boys were able to handle the two previous trips which you can read about on Family trip take 1 and Family trip take 2, that we would have a “real” family holiday break but for 5 days. We decided to hire a caravan out on the other side of the country from us so it would be a nice long travel time, but also not really give us an easy option to return home fast. It all started 1 month before the planned holiday, when we started to show the boys the pictures of the private caravan we were hiring so they could see where we were would be staying. We showed them on a map from where and to where we would travel. We also talked about how long the road trip would be and how many days we would be away. This worked a treat for the boys. They were very interested in the pictures as it looked “nice” and it was going to be a new place for them to relax with some great family time.
After our last trip and using the WAZE on my phone, we thought it would be a great way to engage the youngest more in the travelling of our trip. He loved the idea of “seeing” how many hours/minutes our trip would take, seeing the path we would take and collecting “goodies” along the way. But we had to make sure that it would really help and work for him. So, on a few previous HE (Home Education) short outings I used WAZE and he enjoyed looking on my phone so this really prepared him for the long 6-7 hour drive that was to come. A quick purchase of a tablet holder for the seat headrest and an extra-long charging cable did the trick just fine. Both boys were able to see where we were on the map, where we were going, traffic jams, road hazards, times of arrival and collecting the amazing goodies of points as we made our way through the countryside. We were so amazed how well the app engaged him, for hours in fact, it was like another child on this trip. He was so relaxed, he told us about other users in the area, about his new goodies, where we were and we only heard the dreaded “are we nearly there yet?” a few times but they were meant to be jokes from him rather than actual questions.
We also planned to move the eldest from the seat next to the youngest to one of the back seats so that possibility of poking each other could be avoided at all costs. We also moved the youngest to the seat behind me so should be decided to start kicking; at least it wouldn’t be Daddy as he was driving. The eldest loved the idea of being in his own little space and in fact loved the coziness of it all once all the luggage and things were packed in near him. He was also in eye shot of WAZE too so he knew where and when we would get there too. A part from the two of them wanting to constantly stuff their little faces with the lunches I pre-packed for them and a few extra items, they really were great. They watched 2 new dvds along the way as well, which also kept them occupied and the eldest enjoyed the Car Make sheet I made for him to count cars and the makes he saw on along the way as he is a big lover of cars.
The fact the boys were so relaxed and not winding each other up made us both relax a lot and it was a really pleasant travel period for everyone I think. And thank goodness for Kwells as no one was car sick in the car either
Once we arrived we realised it was the best option for us to go into a caravan as we all would have space and not trapped in a single room over night for 5 days and because he had space we also brought the youngest’s “Spin Disc”, which he uses to get sensory input when he is trying to relax or needs stimulation. Funnily enough though, he actually never used it the whole time away. As we had a 3 bedroom caravan we had space for a changing room, so that I could put things away, the boys has a room to share and we had our own space too. We also brought our Xbox with us so that on “caravan days” or rainy days the boys would have something they could do. We also had two tellys which came in handy later when we were caravan trapped and the boys needed space.
It was certainly different for us all being so closely with other people and I mean a lot of other people but the boys thrived on the new environment for the most part. The big highlight for youngest was the arcade area and this area became part of our nightly routine. Luckily the boys, Nana gave them quite a lot of spending cash and they boys made sure they used it daily. The arcades, for those who have never stayed in a caravan site, or for those Americans who have visions of 1980’s flashbacks of pacman, are going to be a bit disappointed. Personally I am not keen on these places, too much noise, too many flashy lights, too many children wandering around without supervision and the overall theme of teaching your children to gamble just doesn’t really sit well with me, but of course I did it anyway. To top it off we had to pay a stupid amount of money just to go into the area as a starting point. There were tons of machines and one that the youngest loved was a 2p coin machine that he hoped would win him tickets. Tons of money spent on getting little tickets that as a collective would buy some little “toy” that wasn’t even worth the paper tickets used to purchase them. But to see the youngest face when I changed a £1 coin into to 50 2p coins was amazing. He knows about money, but all he could see was that his 1 coin was now 50 coins and he was spending it like water. Realising what the boys were learning from this we made a choice to limit both boys, not only for their own good but for our sanity of having to be in there in the first place.
After our daily arcade time, we had family movie time before bed. This was my favourite bit. We all gathered together in the living room area with popcorn, biscuits and a few sweets and had loads of cuddle time and watched some great little films like, Despicable me, Despicable me 2 , Wreck-it Ralph, The Lego Movie, The Nut Job and others like it. It was such a great time for us all to be close and learn to appreciate some quiet time together and it always was the highlight of my day. But also always part of the daily routine.
What we also loved was the fact that when we went out with the boys they did stay close, they took in everything around them and were happy as long as they knew what the main plans for the day were. We even managed to sneak in a great little family theme park along the way, which had some great staff that just seemed to fall in love with our boys and really made the trip special for us. As luck would have it, the day we attended the family park the local special needs schools were also there with quite a range of children with various special needs and the staff really couldn’t have been kinder or more pleasant if they tried.
It was also so amazing to hear the boys on a daily, in fact what seemed like hourly basis, say what a great holiday they were having and how much they enjoyed everything they were doing. For us it was all about them.
I know both Adam and I were so tired and really had no major interest in mixing a lot of the other people. Perhaps it is part of our own parenting style, but we are very vigilant when it comes to looking after our boys. I know the youngest like the back of my hand and know how fast he can go from being happy and ok to becoming aggressive and punching another child, adult or property. So when he had an incident where another child, parent-less or so it seemed, I had some reason to intervene. Perhaps other parents like to let their kids “get on with it” and believe “boys will be boys” etc., but that isn’t me and ain’t how we roll. I had to interject when this “parentless” started say mean things to my youngest son when all he wanted to do was use the slide. Luckily, a few minutes later the kid’s guardian called from the distance and he took off running our boy and the other young children in the park were left in peace. This was only then followed up by a little boys perhaps 5 or so coming out of a bar/café and just going off on his own with no adult in tow. Much to the surprise of us all, a few minutes later the little boy’s younger brother comes out looking for him and also escaped, again with no adult in sight. I then had to realise, that while I say I never judge, I do, and that day some 10 minutes later when some dad realised his kids were gone that he was one of “those parents” who I strive and make sure I avoid at all costs. I am all up for relaxing and having fun on holiday, but not at the expense of the safety of my children. I also realised that yes, I am protective, but that doesn’t mean I don’t give them freedom, it just means that I don’t neglect my parenting duties because my environment changes.
The trip home was again a great success with WAZE doing its job, the boys happy to watch films or play their DSs and the excitement of sleeping in our own beds was all to come. Now I am sure you are thinking, but everyone in this family all have Autism, surely it was a nightmare? Well, I think one hard thing was the fact that our youngest has vocal tics and were certainly on the increase at the time and it is one that is very similar to our eldest’s tics as he also has Tourette’s Syndrome and so they often set each other off. The youngest’s are, at the moment an almost constant, but he doesn’t seem to be bothered about them. Our eldest has learned the art of suppression and I can see he is trying to suppress a lot and so that this does stop his focus a lot but also means he is even clumsily than usual as his attention to things around him also decreases with his suppression. Did we have melt downs? Yes a few but luckily they were in the caravan. We made sure we gave plenty of warnings about changes to our plans, about when we were going to be leaving to or leaving from somewhere which helped them both. We did have trouble trying to stop the youngest from eating too much. He was almost constantly eating and we explained that once we got back home it would be back to healthier foods and smaller amounts. We also had to ensure that the youngest couldn’t escape from the Caravan so we had to put the “glass” table (I mean really? A glass table in a caravan where there will be children?) and a big puffy in front of the doors to prevent him) from getting out just in case we were asleep in the morning. But with the eldest watching the youngest like a very very special body-guard, we knew he would raise any alarms should the need arise.
What we learned was that showing them more visually about our trip was a real helper. Having WAZE really did cut out some major stress for us which made for a much more enjoyable trip for us all. The xbox came in handy to give them something to do on days when we weren’t able to do anything. And the key to a good holiday was keeping the babies happy, which was our goal.