It is that time of year, VACATIONS! Whether you hit the skies, the roads or do a stay-cation in your own town, there are some things I have learned through the years that may be helpful to others. I haven't been able to look at vacations the way most do. I look at it with trepidation, stress and maybe even a little fear. Vacations just aren't the same when Autism is involved. Here's a typical rundown of some of the stuff we have to do:
Pack comfort items, especially weighted blanket. The last thing you want is a meltdown because the one toy you forgot is the one your child absolutely has to have and is screaming for hours over. Rent trailer from U-Haul to carry all said "loveys".
Food - need I say more? Not only do you have to meal plan for the entire time you are gone but you also have to make and pack food for the WHOLE trip. You cannot count on local stores having GFCFSF, preservative, MSG, grass fed, free range, etc. foods. And just because the local town HAS a (Insert favorite store name here), there is no guarantee that they carry the said item that is your child's favorite, right texture, and chances are it is going to be more expensive in a vacation town. Again, you see how the U-haul can be invaluable!
Activities can be tricky. You don't want to do too much so that your child is overwhelmed and therefore melts down. What if the sounds are too loud? What if it is too crowded? What if someone poured on a bottle of perfume/cologne and is sitting next to you? What if they get away from you and dart off? I could go on and on.
Supplements, what if you forget something? They all need to be prepped and packed, can't leave anything out or lord knows WHAT will happen. Gaba and Theanine forgotten? Oh how the anxiety soars, add a new place and that is just a recipe for disaster. Get that checklist out, open all capsules (for the kiddos not swallowing pills) and of course don't forget the stuff in the fridge or like us, the LDN which is kept upstairs for night time application. Also throw in some epsom salt cream or salts for detox baths after playing in chlorinated pools. Don't forget the enzymes, especially if you are planning on eating out, maybe extra chewable Trienza's in your purse "just in case". I keep Trienza, A & I and vitamin C with me at all times.
Where to stay? Hotels suck, let's just get that out there. Inevitably we are next to the twenty-something partiers who stay up til dawn singing the latest Lady Gaga songs at the top of their lungs, or we end up below the group who decides to have an all night dance party and it sounds as if the roof is going to cave in. Where is the white noise? Where is the consideration? Not to mention you are all sleeping in the same room, hotels with more than one room are hard to find these days (or expensive). I had written a biz plan years ago to pitch to hotels for Autism friendly rooms (except for the fact that I am raising children, one whom has Autism and never got around to pitching it!). Wish I did back then, seems that idea is starting to catch on now. Staying in hotels just sucks for us. Period. We are lucky enough to be from San Diego so we have relatives to stay with and that is where we "vacation" (yeah, I know, we vacation back "home", ironic but it works). But staying with relatives can be tricky too. Will there be a meltdown at 6:00 am because the "right" cartoon is not on the local stations at the same time. Maybe breakfast is a tad different, maybe they are not sitting in their regular seat, you get the picture. You walk on eggs shells not to disturb the whole house when many time, Autism is loud and can be very stressful. Often you are sharing rooms which can be tricky for our phantom sleepers with Autism. We tip toe around our child with Autism, sleep can be precious and sharing a room, not so conducive.
You can see how many aspects of travel can be very stressful. Heck, I still have not braved a flight with my children. Now I must say, this has gotten SO much easier. Car rides alone were torture for a while. As we have done more biomed, as my son has "healed", as his symptoms fade, we can loosen up. Those old worries still crop up. I had to run errands this week with my son. We made 7 stops in one day, in and out of the car, unfamiliar places, therapy appts., etc. He was a trooper! Not one meltdown, rolled with the punches! It is times like that were I have to note how far he has come. 1 outing would have been too much, sensory system overwhelmed and screaming for hours on end and a fitful night sleep would be had for all. Not anymore. Progress....
There is still plenty of prep work involved, special diets prepared to have on hand but even that gets easier. Since retiring, my mother in law has been out more frequently. As a stellar cook, mom and wife, she appreciates what I do daily. She watches, asks lots of questions, not from the place of "Why in the world would you do that?" but from the place of "Wow! I see the changes in M and I want to see WHAT you are doing so I can do that too for him". We get texts (YES she is texted now!!) of "I picked up rice noodles and buffalo meat for spaghetti". There have been so many years that just to be sure, I brought EVERYTHING with me and cooked from scratch in someone else's kitchen (not ideal, let me tell you). I am so thankful that things are changing and that we have family that cares so much about what we are doing and are rallying around us to make our trip enjoyable. I feel like this is the first trip where I can maybe, just maybe take a little breathe and enjoy, not just plan and stress.
So why did we go each year if it was so stressful you may ask? Well for one, we see Dr. Kurt Woeller once a year in person so we always time our trips to coincide. It is a must to get out there. And, it is too tempting to hole up, not go anywhere. My kids deserve to see their grandparents, cousins, our life long friends and their children! And to watch them run and play heals my heart just a little. To see my kids hug their grandparents, and lately ask for them over and over with "I miss them" frequently said, I know it is important. We have to push (gently) past our comfort zone, theirs and ours, sometimes. I am all for attachment parenting, DIR therapy etc. but we cannot do nothing because it is hard. We just have to be smart about it.
So prepare, plan, organize and then breathe. Our kids also deserve for their parents to just enjoy them, watch them run in the waves, touch a starfish for the first time and maybe to get time just to sit on the beach and dig their toes in the sand. Life is what it is, stressful, frustrating, and yet also beautiful, wonderous, and joyous if we make the time to see that. It is something I (clearly) have not done enough of. But, my commitment THIS vacation is to stress less, enjoy more, be prepared and then RELAX. It took us years to get to this point. It was simply NOT an option prior. But you know what, I have worked my BUTT off to get here, and so has HE. So, back to prepping foods, packing and preparing, but my mind is thinking of that beach and maybe, just maybe taking a deep breath of that salty sea air I miss so much. My wish for all of you? Happy, safe vacations, memories made, meltdowns avoided. Most of all? ENJOY the ride!