Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vacationing With Asperger's Syndrome - Suggestions For Making it a Pleasant Experience For Everyone

If you have someone in your house with Asperger's Syndrome or autism, then you know vacations can be very stressful. People with this diagnosis don't like change and do like routine and familiar surroundings. For years it was a miserable experience to go on a family vacation. So miserable we wondered why we were putting ourselves through the torture. However, we have two "typical" children who needed to have the experiences their brother avoids. Through trial, error and education, we came up with solutions which make vacations an enjoyable experience for everyone. These solutions may not work for everyone, but give some a try. Keep what works and leave the rest on the coffee table to collect dust.

For our family we stumbled upon a timeshare program. No matter where we go in a timeshare network, our son can be assured of familiar things in each setting. The units are basically laid out, furnished and stocked the same. He knows he'll have a double bed to himself in a room he'll share with his younger sister. He knows he'll have a television in his room and a bathroom connected to his room. He knows his clean clothes will be in the drawer three from the top and his dirty clothes will go in the bottom drawer. He knows his PS2 or Wii will be compatible with the entertainment center in the living room. If timeshares are not an option for you, consider using the same hotel chain, campgrounds, friend's and or family locations from vacation to vacation.

Next, we've step up "routines" or traditions for our vacations. For example, he knows during Spring Break we will go to the timeshare complex near the same amusement park. We will ride the same rides, eat the same foods and he will carry the same park map. He knows during the stay his dad will take him and his sister to the indoor pool at least once a day and one night we'll go to the same all-you-can-eat buffet. We've given up the Christmas with the extended family in favor of a week at another favorite timeshare location. Family and friends are free to come visit us for the day, the child who is easily overstimulated knows at the end of the day, he'll have his much needed time, space and routine.

While it is a major pain and causes us to pack extra items, we also make sure we make the "vacation house" feel like home. He has sensory issues, so we bring the mini-trampoline with us wherever we go. Otherwise he's jumping on the furniture or running back and forth in the unit. We carry the bedtime bible, the pillow, the blanket and the stuffed animal. We also carry the "survival backpack" which I wrote about in a separate article.

Since the timeshare units are fully furnished apartments, I plan to make most of the meals. I either bring all the groceries with me for a week of meals, or I shop immediately after checking in. I make sure all the meals are family favorites and include the foods he'll eat. I also keep his special cup on hand.

Finally, when he was younger, it was helpful to show him pictures of the place we were going, show him the map of how we were getting there, and a schedule of what he could expect to do each day. I find he doesn't need this as much now that he's older. It might be because we are usually going to the same places we've been before. More recently I've found I need to create and post a schedule of the weekly and daily activities on the timeshare unit refrigerator. I also bring and post the current behavior plan, rewards and consequences. In this case, I print these ahead of time and keep refrigerator magnets in my "timeshare" box.

Of course, every child and family is different, so all of these ideas may not work for you. However, if some do, then you'll find vacation a little less stressful and more relaxing. I'm curious to know if this helped you. Please feel free to comment and let me know. Or to give you some of your own tips.

Corrin Howe

I'm a mother of a nine-year-old son diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, ADHD and Anxiety Disorder. Although I don't think what I do for him is beyond normal, most of the professionals we deal with suggest that I start sharing some of my ideas for helping my son.

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