Taking a trip to a new place with a child can be exciting and terrifying. You pick a day. You pick a place. You pick the people to join you. You pick what to bring. What you don't get to pick is your child's mood that day. You don't get to pick the prices. You don't get to pick if anyone is going to be sick or healthy that day. You don't get to pick the weather. This is all OK.
I recently took two day trips (or 1/2 day trips) to child friendly locations, an ecology center and an aquarium. There were many families at both. Both settings involved animals or other living creatures. Both settings were crowded, involved walking, were unpredictable, and included outdoor and indoor activities. Some adults have difficulty when faced with situations that have these qualities. Many children also experience a level of discomfort mixed in with excitement for traveling to a new place and seeing cool species. Now imagine a child with special needs. How is he/she feeling and dealing with the unpredictability of animals, shows, and events? How is he/she coping with being surrounded by lots of strangers, tall people, little people, strollers, wheelchairs, and animals? How is he/she managing the energy and perseverance of walking great lengths in the hot sun? The answer? It depends. There's that phrase again (in case you missed my last blog post, read through it and "it depends" will make more sense to you). A better question might be- how are mom and dad handling these factors? Are they comfortable or distressed? Are they laughing when they read a schedule wrong and missed an event, or are they yelling because their child is unable to sit for 20 minutes to wait for the next showing?
Children look to the adults and others around them for cues about how to think, feel, and act. This can be very useful, or it can be unhelpful and even hurtful. Parents can model appropriate coping skills and behaviors for their children in these difficult (even though they are fun) situations. Children with special needs may need some additional support. Consider calling the locations in advance and find out what accommodations they offer. These may include preferential seating or parking, use of headphones, early entry/exit, and reduced waiting times. You may want to consider bringing snacks, toys, and coping items (book, blanket, picture cards, etc.) with you for your child to use during stressful situations. If your child uses a communication device, bring it with you and allow your child to have access to it at all times. Remember, this is their voice. Listen to your child. Ask a relative, close friend, or professional to take the trip with you. This may help the child and parents feel more successful and relaxed when additional eyes, ears, and support are available. Prepare your child about the upcoming experience and let them know that there may be some unpredictability and this is OK. We can call these events "monkey wrenches." Adults-this is for you too. Sometimes life throws you a monkey wrench such as rain on the day you wanted to go to the beach or get that yard work done. The point is-change is all around us and it can be good. Part of preparing your kids for what to expect to reduce unpredictability is actually preparing them for change and monkey wrenches!
Have fun during the rest of summer (it's not over yet!) and plan a trip to take in the next few weeks. Just be sure to actually have fun and don't stress about the monkey wrenches. If you have fun, you're kids probably will too.