Have you ever watched those reveal videos of parents surprising their kids with a magical vacation? Everyone lights up and they ride off into the sunset ready for days of fun and adventure! Those are beautiful moments for those families. But when you have a child that finds new situations and travel difficult, announcing a trip can be stressful. You could struggle with months of nervous anticipation, only to have the vacation spent hiding in your hotel room, trying to avoid meltdowns. Here are some tips to prepare your child for a successful trip.
1. Expose Your Child To Similar Situations
Well before your vacation dates, find local destinations that contain elements similar to those you plan to experience. Head out to fairs, amusement parks, and festivals to experience crowds, carnival rides, long lines, live music, or fireworks. Take your child to movie theaters, especially IMAX and 3-D ones, which are dark, visually stimulating, and have unexpected loud noises. Pay attention to how your child reacts in these environments. Are they more irritable under certain conditions? Are there things you thought would be problematic that were actually fine? These stimulants are important to assess while still at home so you can be prepared once you reach your destination.
2. Search Accessibility Guides
The word “accessibility” is most often associated with mobility needs, and many people never consider exploring the services offered under this heading. However, Accessibility Guides cover many cognitive and physical needs. Visit your destination’s website, where you will typically find this information under the “Plan Your Visit” or “Guest Services” pages.
One of the most comprehensive online guides for a tourist destination is from Walt Disney World Resort®. Their website has a wealth of information dedicated to services for guests with cognitive disabilities and includes a list of sensory elements for the attractions, locations of quiet areas, tips for how to prepare, and advice on what to bring. Although the information is geared toward visitors with autism spectrum disorder, the information is so well thought out that it is practical for a variety of needs.
Some destinations provide Social Stories for their guests. These are excellent tools that include pictures and information about what to expect from arrival to departure. This type of concrete information is desirable to some kids and can alleviate any anxiety they may feel about an unfamiliar place. Disney Cruise Line provides a Social Story about the cruise experience on their website.
3. Create A Visual Vacation Schedule
Vacation can be an unknown, mysterious thing. Not all kids can imagine what their days will be like while away from home, and this can be unsettling. Create a schedule for each day of the trip that includes special activities, in addition to the familiar morning and evening routines. Pictures from previous vacations, along with pictures of the new destination, can be helpful, too. Finally, you might find that pictures from home are important since not all children understand that they will be returning after the trip. Let your child review the schedule as much as he or she wants, both before and during the vacation. Allow them to provide input or make suggestions.
There are many amazing places for parents to explore with their children. While planning ahead can be frustrating and time-consuming, it is worth the effort to have the experiences your family desires. Children that require these types of preparations are already facing daily challenges that can be exhausting for them. This is their vacation, too. Putting in some thoughtful preparation ahead of time can set them (and you) up for a great family getaway! Share the strategies that have worked for your family in the comments.