Planning for a summer vacation

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


FOR a family who has a son or daughter with special needs, summer vacations that involve travel to a different locality or to a place that is unfamiliar to the child can be a lot of hassle if planning has not been done well. We all know for a fact that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) do not adapt to changes as quickly as we all do.

Changes in routines, schedules, environment and people around them can make individuals with ASD react differently, either with passivity or on the extreme, with aggression or tantrums. At the start, bringing them along with the family can cause some delays and inconvenience.

Sometimes, it costs more than the usual budget for a vacation, but we cannot leave them behind… certainly not. With my family, we always stay together on trips, either local or abroad.

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Of course it is not easy for the entire family and a lot of adjustments had to be done, before, during and after the trip.

Planning indeed makes a lot of difference when we go on a summer trip or outing. First, we have to consider the mode of travel. Is the child prepared to travel by bus or by plane? It was certainly a different scenario when my son, Jan, rode the airplane for the first time when he was three years old. From the time we entered the plane until the engines were started, he was throwing a tantrum and crying wildly, and we had to request for a seat at the back in order not to disturb the other passengers. His hands were on his ears, probably because of sensitivity to the sound of the plane engine. He only stopped crying when the plane was already moving and probably because he already got tired. Looking back, we now know that he reacted that way because it was a new situation for him, and because he was very young, we were not able to let him know what to expect in an airplane ride.

Nowadays, my son has no more problems with riding the bus or plane or boat because we have taught him how and what to expect when traveling. His training in school has taught him the sights, sounds, and everything else that happens in a bus or plane or boat ride. We made sure that his school is one that has a good program which includes simulations of real-life situations. A classroom that one day turns into a bus or airplane or into a beachfront in another day, or a salon or spa or barbershop on the succeeding weeks will be good for a child with problems on sensitivity.

This is what we call desensitization. One concrete example is when the family loves to go to the beach but the child has sensitivity to the texture of the sand and prevents the child from walking on sand or playing with it. This type of sensitivity can be overcome if the child is gradually exposed to sand play daily using different strategies or activities.

It could be playing with a small amount of sand in a sandbox, or through an art activity using sand or reading a story about going to the beach. And this is part of planning for a summer vacation. As parents, you can always request the teachers of your child to prepare him or her for a particular trip.

Another thing to consider is the schedule of activities during the trip. My son was used to following a daily and weekly schedule, and most of the time, this worked well for him and for us. Problems arise only when there is a sudden change like when there is a mix up of places to go to. But then again, as part of planning, we have also trained him on getting used to sudden changes in schedules. For the non-verbal child, parents can always take advantage of pictures and photos in order to prepare the child for a certain trip.

But wait, it is not only the child with special needs that we have to prepare for changes during a summer vacation. Every member of the family has to be prepared also if and when plans are not followed and if there is a need to forego some activities or places to go during a vacation.

Every member must have full understanding and acceptance of every challenging situation that occurs during a vacation. If our family is able to enjoy summer vacations, I am sure many families also do. Just plan your vacations and everything else will fall into place.

Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments or questions, please email janeanngonzales@yahoo.com).

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 09, 2014.

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