All I ever wanted? (I think the Go-Go’s penned this phrase back in the 80’s.) Ah…, vacation time.
As the holiday season approaches, many of us will find ourselves crisscrossing the country, and possibly traveling to borders unknown. Whether you are traveling soon or just returned from a last minute getaway weekend before the holiday rush, everybody loves a vacation. Right?
Don’t get me wrong, I really do love vacations. The sun, eating at restaurants, a break from the everyday routine. Wait, did I just say a break from routine? That whole routine thing really doesn’t take a break when you live in the house of autism. Vacationing with all of us on the autism spectrum in our family is exhausting. Rigidity does not take a break.
First things first. Where should we vacation? This is where the routine part becomes crucial. Should we go to a spot we have never visited? Maybe that would be really adventurous! Then again, what will we eat? Where will we stay? What will we do? Who will keep us on our schedule? Our routine could be compromised!
A new vacation spot sounds outstanding to most but for our family it’s a tall order. For the past five years, my family and I have taken our once-a-year vacation to the happiest place on earth. You know, Walt Disney World! Your eyes did not deceive you, I did just write that we have been to Walt Disney World five times. To me, Disney World is a high-functioning autistic person’s dream come true. I can plan every single second of our vacation before we even leave the house (talk about rigidity).
Through the wonders of modern technology, I can plan meals, hotels, rides, and just about everything else with the touch of a finger. You might be thinking why we would want to visit the same place over and over? That’s where that whole routine thing comes into play. We have been there many times so we know where everything is located. As much as anything in this world can be, Disney World is consistent and fairly predictable.
My youngest daughter on the spectrum likes to eat at very predictable (dare I say routine) times. No problem, I plan all our meals in advance. We research the menus online and decide what she wants to eat. This is a huge advantage, especially when one has a child that only eats very specific foods. I prepare her at home and manage a possible meltdown before we embark on our journey.
My oldest daughter on the spectrum likes to know the schedule for each day of the week. Once again, that’s fine because I can schedule it all beforehand. Everyone is happy. Of course, no one can predict everything. Car sickness hits like an F4 tornado, frequently, without warning. Restaurants run out of food or change menus, rides break, and we are all at the mercy of the changing weather. I should point out that I do not work for Disney, nor do I know anyone that works for Disney. This is just my family’s way of dealing with vacation and our spectrum challenges. It works for us.
For some families, vacation might be a walk in the park (literally). My real point here is that even though vacation time can be challenging with children on the spectrum, it is a very doable and enjoyable experience. There may be more prep work involved, but it is totally worth the time. Enjoy vacation through the eyes of a non-typical child. You might be surprised at what you have been missing all those years even if it’s visiting the same place over and over. Try to remember that people on the spectrum function best when there is routine, order, and schedules. For us, it’s very comforting to know what is coming next. And the huge bonus is that no matter where you vacation—a beach, a ski lodge or a theme park—planning every detail in advance, means relaxation time when you reach your destination. Build in that routine so you can focus on what’s most important…having fun!