If you have a child with autism or a similar condition, it's all too tempting to avoid going out. After all, who wants the stress and hassle of dealing with possible behaviours in public? (Not least of which the glaring eyes from ignoramuses who just assume you're a crap parent.)
But summer—and life, for that matter—is too short to let your child's limitations limit your family. With a little forethought and careful planning, there's no good reason why you can't enjoy the same special outings as everyone else.
Big crowds, long waits, loud noises, flashing lights... On the face of it, many attractions are a sensory nightmare for children on the spectrum. Knowing this, I felt the fear and braved a popular amusement park, anyway. Surprisingly, my son—and therefore we—had a great time. (The only hiccup came at the end of rides when he was told to get off. After calmly explaining that he could line up and get right back on for another turn, he was fine and eventually played by the rules. My bad for not explaining the process beforehand.)
1. Bring supplies: Forewarned yada yada... Even for early birds, sometimes waiting is unavoidable. And even though I'm all for my son 'learning' to hold his horses like everyone else, he can only do so in doses. When waiting for meals or rides, or even as a distraction, bring along whatever gizmo or toy will capture his attention. Many parents frown at the sight of kids with iGadgets but if they only knew the alternative, they wouldn't be so rash to judge. Often being tuned into a device gives a child a much-needed opportunity to tune out the world and thus regroup enough to rejoin it.
2. Timing: Go early or go home. By arriving when a park first opens, you will avoid the worst of the lineups and crowds, because frankly most people can't be bothered to get out the door that early. So the busiest times usually tend to be afternoons. Early arrival gives your child time to acclimatize to the environment without having to deal with the added stress of noise and waits. When the crowds do come, chances are your child will have had a good crack at the activities and be more than ready to go pack up, and so you won't feel bitter at having spent coin for nothing.
3. Plan ahead: Google is a great tool, isn't it? Not only can you avoid lineups by printing prepaid tickets at home, you can often plan your day by looking at site layouts and finding exit strategies and your own designated quiet areas before the panic sets in.
4. Factor in breaks: Even when things seem to be ticking along smoothly and your child is having a blast, it's important to take breaks. Set aside 10 minutes for a healthy snack. It could be just the segue that saves your child from becoming overloaded. By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. It's the same with meltdowns. Don't wait till your child is maxed out before taking a time out. Often it's too hard to get back on track post meltdown, and all parties will likely be exhausted. Prevention is always the best medicine.
5. Leave early: While it may sound contradictory, when the going is good, the good get going. By not waiting until the situation unravels, you will keep those good memories intact and those smiles firmly in place in the scrapbook. Not only does this boost a child's confidence ("Hey, look, remember how I kept it together and had fun?"), but the prospect of a return journey become a tantalizing reward rather than a threatening recurrence of a failed expedition. And even if it all goes pear shaped, at least you know you tried.