When your child has autism, even simple outings can be challenging—but that shouldn’t stop you from going out to have fun as a family. It takes a little patience, planning and, when all else fails, a stash of snacks.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
Letting your child know where and when you’re going is key. Knowing what to expect and what’ll happen once you get there is just as important. The internet is a wonderful thing: No matter where you’re going, someone’s already been there and taken pictures of it. Use those pictures to show your child what the destination looks like. Show him pictures of other people engaged in the activity you’re about to do to model appropriate behavior. When you get to the place you’re going, make a point of highlighting the things you showed him, like saying, for instance, “There’s the counter we saw where we can buy tickets.”
ODD HOURS ARE YOUR FRIENDS.
When trying a new activity, less crowded is ideal. Call ahead and talk to the staff about off-peak times and days. Sometimes picking your kid up early from school to take a trip to an aquarium on a Tuesday might sound a little crazy, but if it’s a great time to go, why not? It’s not an everyday thing and heck, it’s like a hands-on science class. Likewise, sometimes there are deals that come with less popular hours that you can take advantage of. A successful outing and saving money? That’s a parenting win.
PLAY TO THEIR STRENGTHS.
If you had told me in my twenties that I’d spend a day riding NJ transit trains with my son for fun, I would’ve thought you were crazy. But here I am doing it. Why? Because my son loves trains. Outings aren’t just about what a parent thinks is fun. We need to respect our kids’ quirky interests. So yes, sometimes you’re going to do stuff that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, but it does to them. The smile they’ll give you at the end of the day will make it all worth it.
PACK SNACKS. LOTS OF SNACKS.
Not just any snacks. Special snacks. The big gun snacks. The snacks you only buy once in a blue moon and only pull out once you’re there. I’m the mom that produced french fries out of her purse like Mary Poppins at a sensory-friendly play once. It kept him very happy. Make sure they’re well fed before you go (you, too). All ages can get hangry.
Arrange to meet with another family, maybe a classmate of your child’s or some cousins who are totally used to all things autism. There’s power in numbers when you need it. Families who have a child with autism often feel a tad out of place in a world full of neurotypicals. Knowing you can just exchange a look with another mom who just “gets it” when something goes awry is an invaluable stress buster.
It’s important to accept when it all goes south. You can plan everything perfectly, but it can still hit the fan. It can be hard emotionally, but don’t stay stuck in that moment forever. Have your pity party for one, but plan to try again. Each trip will teach you something to consider for the next one. The more times you do it, the more these outings become part of your child’s routine. One thing I’ve learned is to build onto each trip from the one before. Maybe the last time you only stayed 20 minutes at a place. Make it a goal to stay 30 the next time. If you make it 25 and it’s getting dicey, remember that it’s already better than the last time, and you’ll get there eventually.
—Autism is a trip Wall Twp. mom Eileen Shaklee didn’t plan on, but she sure does love her tour guide. Join her adventures with a side of sarcasm (and fries) at autismwithasideoffries.blogspot.com.