tips for a better summer vacation (adoption/Autism)


Summer vacations are here, and maybe you’re excited about the fast approaching fun, or maybe you’re apprehensive about it going awry. No matter where you stand, it’s important to have understanding of your child, and a plan in your suitcase before you go.

Before you go on your trip, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN, and TALK, TALK, TALK with your kids about what you’ll be doing. Only share an overview of what your new adventure will entail, try not to share anything that might not come to fruition. We know plans get made and plans fall through, but the same idea is true as when you’re at home, stick to your word as much as possible. Our hurting children aren’t able to switch modes quickly when something doesn’t go as expected, so it’s beneficial to have a Plan A, and a Plan B so they can adjust to any changes more smoothly.

For our last two vacations, I made a map of the states we were traveling to and marked the points we would travel to on the map so our daughter could see the plan. This visual took away some of the anxiety of going to a new place. Each point had a day of the week attached to it, so she knew where we would be while we were gone. Before we left we talked about the schedule often, and if she had questions we were open to listening and answering as best we could.

You will want to consider how many special things are included in a getaway; going out to eat, extra attention from family and friends, new activities, and a plethora of adventures that aren’t part of our child’s every day routine. I don’t know how your children are, but my daughter (you can see her diagnosis here)* used to have a terrible time with special things. Special things means anything out of the ordinary day to day. This may be one of the reasons your child acts out during your vacation.

Be aware that leaving home will create anxiety in many of our children. If your child is acting out, think of reasons why this may be. Have they traveled before? Have they stayed in a hotel before? If you adopted internationally, the last time they were in a hotel may have been when you brought them home, and this may have been exciting for you, but alarming to them. No matter where your child came from, they may feel unsure about leaving home and thoughts of abandonment might fill their mind, or they may believe you are taking them to someone else. They are often unable to express these feelings, and no matter how much you say it, they may not trust you. Reassure them anyway.

Most importantly, remember most behaviors are communication (I will have more about this in my next post). Our children are acting out because they have something to say or they feel a certain way, but they don’t know how to express it with words.

moveWhile on vacation give your children plenty of opportunities to be active. If they are bouncing off the walls and bed in a hotel room or at a family members house, they may be in serious need of sensory stimulation. Go do something!

On our last trip to South Dakota, we grabbed lunch at a McDonald’s, thinking the kids could release some of their energy that had been pent up for hours in a car. The pre-lunch playtime quickly went sour beginning with the stench of mildew and stinky feet that hit me when I opened the door to the playland. Then Jeremiah (has Autism) only wanted to snatch food from everyone’s table, completely oblivious that those fries weren’t ours. I grabbed Jeremiah, asked Payton to get her shoes on, and headed out the door. On my way out, I shouted to my husband, who was getting drinks after ordering, that I was leaving, and Payton was in the play area. (This was our second stop for lunch, the first had been a Subway, and upon entering we found it packed with people and we had a boy that would not sit for any amount of time.) Justin arrived at the car with a crying girl (who was particularly sad about leaving her best friend, who she had known for a maximum of seven minutes) and some food. I used the GPS (love that thing) to find a park nearby. BEST THING WE DID! Duh. All this to say, break up your trip if you’re driving and play at a park, or let them run around in a safe area.

One of our main prerequisites for hotels was a pool. Every night the kids swam for two hours. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without it. Having a child with Autism means that he doesn’t go to sleep easily. I mean, even with swimming, he didn’t fall asleep until 11:30 EVERY NIGHT. Yes, we were a tired bunch! Swimming is especially beneficial for both Autistic children and adopted children.

If your child understands rewards (until a child has created some bond with their caregiver, rewards and consequences mean nothing), you can reward good behavior while traveling. Before one vacation we went to the Dollar Store and purchased items that could be used in the hotel room, car, or pool. This was a good incentive. On our first trip this didn’t work so well, because our daughter hadn’t bonded enough, but this year she did really well. We have also used money on past vacations as a reward. We gave her $1 each day that she did well, and she was able to spend it at souvenir shops (of course we added more so she could get something more than a lollipop). She understands the concept of money so this worked with her, and is something you can use with older children.

These are a few ideas that may bring a little more peace to your trip, I hope they help you have a better summer vacation. Have fun, and try to relax. 🙂

*I only write about my children’s diagnosis to better help those families who are struggling on a day to day basis.