By Maureen Karwowski
When I heard one young boy say, “But I don’t want to go to Paris! Why can’t we just stay home,” I thought, “Who would not want to go to Paris?”. However, I started to think about how nerve racking it must be for a young child, with sensory processing difficulties and social skill challenges, to go away from home even for a brief period of time.
From the young child’s perspective, he or she works very hard to transition from one environment to another in their everyday life. A child’s sensory challenges can result in picky eating, the need for absolute quiet in order to settle down to sleep, as well as the need for intense motor activities daily to feel comfortable. When you look at it from this perspective, it’s easy to see why a young child would react this way when given what seems like a wonderful opportunity to go to France. It felt frightening.
I have seen many clients in my career who reacted in a similar manner to the thought of a vacation; however, the good news is that there are tools you can use to help your child look forward to and enjoy time away from home. A vacation book (or story book) is just one tool you can use to give your child information and prepare them for what to expect on their trip. A vacation book is something you make with your child and then review with them in the weeks leading up to your trip. Here are a few things to keep in mind when making it:
1. Start with a calendar page which will show, with pictures or words, how long you will be gone. You can use a weekly or monthly calendar with pictures of your house for the days leading up to your trip. For the days that you will be traveling, you can add a picture of a car, plane or train. Always include a picture of where you will be sleeping, the hotel, Grandparents house, tent or cabin.
2. Include actual images if you have them. Pictures of relatives you will visit, “special” items such as blankets or stuffed animals that you will pack. You can also download pictures from the internet of the airline, the hotel or resort, the tourist attractions that you will visit to add to the book. The more familiarity for your child, the better.
3. Provide your child with information based on what is meaningful to them. Six hours may not mean too much when talking about a car ride, but two movies, lunch, and five books may resonate better with their concepts of time.
4. A page dedicated to events that may be novel or challenging for your child can assist as well. For example, navigating the sequence at the airport such as checking in, security and boarding the plane will be helpful as this experience can be overwhelming for experienced travelers. In addition, prepare your child for unexpected events such as long lines or delayed flights. A page dedicated to the rules and expectations on the plane, in a restaurant, Grandma’s house, etc. can also be helpful.
5. For many children having a plan or “exit strategy” when they feel stressed is very important and outlining that your child will have those same options while away is even more essential. For instance, use pictures or words to list strategies that will help them such as sitting and reading on a pile of pillows in the corner of the room, using headphones to listen to music, blowing bubbles and drinking a cool drink through a fun straw. Whatever your child finds relaxing can be listed.
In my years of experience, I have seen families use the vacation book as a simple, yet effective tool in helping the entire family enjoy that trip to Paris, or Wisconsin, wherever your travels will lead. Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley therapists can help too! Please call 630.620.4433 for details or to schedule an appointment.