Summer holidays. ‘I’m bored.’ Swimming. The park. Museums. Beaches. Amusement parks. Travel. Holidays. Any parent will tell you those are never easy. With any little human. But add to that the complexities of autism and you have a whole different picture.
One of my struggles as a #neurodivergent mother of an #ActuallyAutistic teen has always been…giving her the ‘normal’ childhood experiences that too many families take for granted. Whether that be trips to the park, museums, days at the funfair, amusement parks, or holidays. One hallmark of autism is sensory differences. For some, this means being under-sensitive and others easily excitable.
Doing these activities has always presented challenges. When @PanKwake was younger, even a trip to the park often resulted in a meltdown as she struggled to manage the constant barrage of smells, sounds, and sights, in addition to the complexities of human interactions. And days out at museums and amusement parks were always a roller coaster ride of highs and lows themselves.
Transport is always a major hurdle. The same young woman that can manage the wildest ride at any amusement park or fair gets motion sickness with anything other than walking. Car journeys of more than twenty minutes are out of the question. Trains she can manage but just barely. Her coping strategy is her iPad. Unfortunately, she cannot handle the sensation of headphones. So, those sitting near us must tolerate her music, videos, and games. For the most part, they have been understanding.
As she has grown older though, she has learned coping strategies and manages situations better. But it is always a balancing act: does the enjoyment of this activity outweigh the sensory challenges of it? @PanKwake makes those choices.
Of course, complicating all of that is my own #neurodivergence/autism. I hate people, noise, and crowds. Perhaps more than @PanKwake. I am certainly having more trouble coping as I get older. Nonetheless, as her parent, I am obligated to enable her to participate in the things that she chooses to. That does not mean it is always easy.
These things are often a ‘perfect storm’ of my planning and circumstances beyond my control. Things like weather, facility staff, and ignorant people can make or break an experience for us.
It is the things which I can control that I want to focus upon in today’s blog. Things like:
As often as we can, we choose to go during the off-season or off-peak times. Hoem educating makes this easier. We went to Disneyland Paris in early November, after the Halloween rush and before the Christmas one. It was interesting to wake up each day to see what new decorations had sprung up overnight. Combined with our VIP and special needs passes, this strategy made the holiday almost perfect.
Of course, we cannot always go to things off-season. Especially in summer when we want to do things with our schooler friends. On those occasions, we try to schedule our activities on off-peak days and times. Going to amusement parks on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to avoid the three-day weekend crowds. Or early morning visits to the trampoline park.
When we go places, we always look like we are packing for a week. Friends used to laugh at the way I had pre-packed park, swimming, and beach bags sitting by the front door. But any time something was missing from one of those, it would almost certainly result in a meltdown.
Things are better now. But food continues to be a major issue. We cannot count upon always finding foods that @PanKwake will eat. This was a huge deal with Disneyland. We had packed some of her favorite snacks as back up. But in the end, she created her routine: croissants at the hotel for breakfast then either lunch or dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Always the same thing, a jacket potato with butter, cheese, and a mountain of sour cream and the Volcano, this massive pile of chocolate brownie, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. We ate there every day for four days. Heck, we even had one of the waitresses at the hotel packing us croissants to take with us for in-between meals.
Clothing too can be problematic. @PanKwake requires loose-fitting clothes. She has worn the same thing since I took her out of school at age five: a t-shirt, pink, Crocs, and the simple cotton skirts that I sew for her. Occasionally, we can get her to wear leggings in the case of extreme cold. But finding the right coat for her, one that does not irritate her skin is a major endeavor. Forget it, if her clothes or especially shoes get wet. So, I must always overpack clothes as well as food.
Add to that all a selection of sensory toys and the iPad and I almost always require a cart for just a single day trip. By the time that we add souvenirs, we always come back with more stuff than we took. Speaking of which…
One of the strategies that I learned the hard way, which has proven to be the most successful is…
Always souvenir shop at the beginning of the day. @PanKwake is less stressed which means she finds hard decision making easier. And the shops are almost empty then. Everyone else has rushed off to the rides. So, fewer distractions and less sensory overload.
So, now that you know a few of our secrets at @HomeCrazzyHome for making the most of those special occasions with your #neurodivergent little human, over the next few weeks, I thought I would review some of our favorite places. Giving you insights on what worked for us and what you might like to avoid. Next up…Treetops & Heatherton.
PS…Always, always, always take loads of photos. In fact, if the attraction offers it, invest one of the photo passes. Visual memory is crucial.