Planning a vacation with sensory-sensitive children can be difficult, especially if you are planning on visiting museums, theme parks, or crowded and closed areas. However, by following a few key steps, you can help ensure that your child has a positive experience.
First, it is important to understand what types of sensory input your child is sensitive to. Proprioceptive input, for example, comes from the muscles and joints and provides information about the position of the body in space. Tactile input comes from the skin and provides information about texture, temperature, and pressure. Vestibular input comes from the inner ear and provides information about movement and balance.
To find out more about these senses, please click here.
In order to have a great experience in these types of places, here is what you can do:
Being Prepared - Before Arriving
Being prepared is going to help to make sure your child is comfortable in these places. Speaking with your child about the experience and what is about to take place is integral to having a great vacation. Use these strategies to make sure you are covered:
- Social Stories: A social story is a short, simple story that describes a situation, experience, or concept in a clear and concise way. This can be helpful in preparing your child for an upcoming trip to an unknown location by describing what to expect in detail. Social stories involve reading, acting, or pretending to visit a place so that the child can be prepared.
For example, use your living room and act out what would happen when you enter the theme park. Maybe create your own ride on your couch and show your child what it would be like to get on a ride. Use your imagination! Click here for more social stories and ideas!
- Widgets: There are a variety of widgets that can help children with sensory sensitivities regulate their environment. For example, noise-canceling headphones can be helpful in reducing the amount of auditory input coming in, while fidget toys can provide proprioceptive or tactile input to help the child feel more grounded, and weighted items like blankets allow having a secure place. Other items also include sunglasses, ear plugs, chewing gum, hat, stuffed animals, or toys that your child may feel comfortable with.
Picking the right widget will be specific to each child, so it is important to do some trial and error ahead of time to find what works best. Bring something that the child feels comfortable with and something that helps to regulate him or her.
- Videos, images: If it is not too overwhelming, allow your child to watch short videos or see photographs of what it would look like to visit the museum or theme park. This can help reduce some of the anxiety that comes with the unknown.
- Schedule around your child's natural rhythm. For example, if your child has more energy in the morning, plan to visit a place that would be less crowded during that time. If your child does better when it is not as noisy, try to find a time when it would be less busy. And if your child does better with more space, try to find a place that would not be too closed in. Try to take into account the best and most optimal time of the day that would benefit your child.
- Call ahead and make adjustments: Ask if you are able to visit the place ahead of your visit so that your child knows the layout and what to expect. If possible, ask if there are any adjustments that could be made to help your child feel more comfortable at specific times. For example, during Touch-A-Truck events (an event where kids are able to touch and go on parked trucks), there is usually a quiet hour so children with sensory sensitivities enjoy the trucks without any noise.
- Food: Bring the food that your child enjoys. In the middle of an unknown place, having familiar foods will help your child feel more comfortable.
At The Destination
When you have arrived, take your time and allow your child to lead. If your child needs to stop and take a break, that is totally fine! Maybe find a place where he or she can sit down and rest. And if your child is feeling overwhelmed and needs to leave, that is okay too. Remember, the goal is to have a great experience, so go at your own pace and listen to what your child is telling you.
If you see that he or she is starting to get overwhelmed, take a pause and encourage him to slow down and self-regulate. Even if you have to find a quiet corner, it will be worth a few minutes to make sure that your child has a great experience.
Your child will be able to tell you how he or she is feeling and always have someone who is keeping him or her calm and allowing him or her to have a great experience.
Also, take into account that it is time to leave when your child is ready to leave, not when your child is overstimulated. Recognize cues when he or she is tired and is not overstimulated. Having an exit strategy in place will help to make sure that your child is not overwhelmed and can last until the end.
After Your Visit
Congratulating our child for doing a great job is a very rewarding experience. This builds confidence for future visits! Talk about what went well and what your child enjoyed most about the experience. Keep the conversation positive and rewarding.
Remember that each child is different and will have different needs. Be patient, try different things, and most importantly, have fun!
Ready to Travel?
Traveling with sensory-sensitive children can be difficult, but by following the tips in this article you can make sure that your child has a good experience. Planning ahead, bringing familiar foods and toys, and taking into account your child's natural rhythm are all important steps to follow. If possible, try to call ahead and make adjustments so that your child will be more comfortable. And finally, take your time, listen to your child, and have fun!