Spring break means sun, warmth, and freedom, but for families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it could mean unstructured time, regression of skills, and an increase in undesirable behaviors. If you’re the parent of a child with autism, you know that the “break” in Spring break can be misleading; it’s more like overtime for you.
Children with autism often thrive in structured environments and do best when engaged in their typical routines. Eliminating a highly-structured and physically and mentally engaging school day could cause inappropriate behaviors to creep up. Leaving the comfort of home for a vacation can also bring more stress to your child and to your family.
Here are five quick tips for getting ready for your Spring break this year.
Check out maps of the parks or resorts you’ll be visiting. Plan routes to avoid potentially difficult spots, like gift shops or food stands, and find the location of bathrooms, exits, and quiet corners in case you need to regroup while out and about. You’ll be able to create a schedule for your day, and may ask your children what exhibits they would like to see. It’s best that your child knows the plan beforehand.
Pack extra resources
Bring extra timers, backup batteries and chargers for electronics, a dry erase board and marker. This is your emergency kit to handle unexpected behavior emergencies. You may need to create a new or alternate schedule when on the run so a dry erase board and marker are easy to use and reusable. Timers are helpful for transitions and to signify the end of activities so be sure to use them on vacation, especially for novel activities. Remember to tell your child how much time is left for an activity when you set the timer. Backup batteries are always a good idea because you never know when they will run out and an electronic device suddenly shutting down could be the start of a big meltdown.
Create visual supports
Use photographs of the hotel, amusement park, or cruise ship, when possible. Contact each location to ask for pictures or find out if they have pre-made resources, like Disney’s ‘Autism on the Seas’ pre-trip visual story that details the trip for your child with autism.
Allow for down time
Plan for quiet time in your hotel so your child can escape the hustle and bustle of his new environment. Be sure to bring along some activities that will help him restore his balance, whether it’s a body sock, an inflatable yoga ball, which can be deflated for travel, or theraputty. Don’t wait for a meltdown to start brewing; schedule rest time and stick to it to increase the likelihood of a successful vacation.
Check the weather
Though weather reports are sometimes unreliable, if there’s a big storm or weather system that’s coming through, you can prepare your child for a day indoors. Write a visual story about staying inside or finding an alternate activity, like going to the movies, so your child can cope with the disappointment of missing a day of outdoor activities.
Staying home? Coordinate with other families to structure some play time or an outing. Incorporate physical activity into each day, such as playing on the playground, doing some yoga in the backyard, or time at an indoor gym. It’s important to keep your child with autism moving to give him the sensory input he most likely craves.
With a little planning, your Spring break can be enjoyable, whether at home or on the road!
Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities.