I think we often forget as parents who are supporting kids with sensory needs that we also need to take care of our own sensory needs so that we are able to be at our best or as best as we can be to take care of our littles, especially during changes in the routine, such as when taking day trips or vacations.
Here are some tips to help support your littles when traveling:
Make a list! Well in advance!
I start making my list sometimes up to two weeks in advance because every day I think of something else that I could need.
Then, when it is time to review the list and pack, I realistically determine what I need to bring in order to have as much of a successful trip that I can hope for.
I typically write down way more stuff than we all need (hey anxiety lol) but I would much rather preventatively overthink than under pack or forget.
I love using my notes app on my phone because it has a check box feature. I also feel the rapid decline of anxiety each time I check a box. It’s a to do list that gets completed in the moment and that sense of completion really helps to support my self regulation- knowing I did everything that was in my control to support our family’s sensory needs for our upcoming trip.
Pack extra of everything!
I’ve always found myself wishing I packed extra things even for day trips just because it would have decreased my anxiety which then would have helped my nervous system regulate better which then helps me support my son better. See how it is all connected!
Use a calendar
I started to notice that my little guy got really excited about going to certain places or on day trips but he kept thinking that they were happening right now, in this moment, or waking up the next day and thinking we were going that day.
This was extremely frustrating to him so we wanted to try out a calendar to help him navigate time concepts better. We have been using the calendar for about a year and the past few months, it has been one of our top tools to support him. It also helps that he has the same calendar at school to support the generalization of time concepts across both his home and academic settings.
We use the calendar every day. We also take pictures or write things into the calendar and talk about how many sleeps until the event. The visuals paired with verbal directions really support his ability to learn about time and sequencing of events.
This calendar gives him a visual perspective of time. He has been able to independently self-regulate so much more by having this tool in his tool bag when planning for day trips and vacas!.
Talk about it nonstop
It is so important to constantly talk about where you are going and what you will be doing. I found that my little guy had a more successful time when we really talked about what we were doing, a lot, beforehand. We also showed him pictures of where we will be going too!
We talk about how if it gets overwhelming that he can access his items in his sensory suitcase and take breaks whenever he needs to.
We make sure that he feels supported every step of the way and understands all aspects of the trip as best as he can to support his self regulation.
Let go of expectations
Let go of all of your anticipated expectations for what you think any travel experience is going to be.
The central nervous system is so variable for each individual that we truly are never going to be able to determine how successful an outing will be.
Between myself and my son’s sensory needs and then all of the environmental factors and other additional factors that can influence the flow of the trip, not having expectations will support not shifting into more negative emotions and feelings when things may not be going as planned.
This is where mindfulness can really help you be present and find the love, joy, and adventure that is happening right in front of you, even if it was not what you anticipated.
Stay present in the moment
This will help ground you and help you be that co-regulating anchor to help support meltdowns if they do occur and to help navigate through difficult or frustrating moments when traveling.
As a neurodivergent parent, there are so many additional layers added during travel preparation for me. To some this may look extensive but to me, it feels normal.
All I am doing is supporting my sensory needs and the sensory needs of my child just like another parent would be packing their child’s favorite toy or comfort blanket.
Even though our bags may look different, the concepts are the same.
Parenting is parenting. The main objective is to support your child. Period. And whatever those supports are, they are your own and the perfect fit to support optimal self and family regulation for engagement in meaningful occupations.
Things may not go exactly how you have planned but you will have the strategies and a plan to support in the moment so you can still have a blast!