HOLIDAYING WITH A SPECIAL NEEDS KID
Every mom has that moment where you go ‘supermom’. You plan meticulously. You have your Excel spreadsheet (Lies! I have a better chance of landing Idris Elba than winning at Excel but you get the gist.) You have your Pinterest affirmations like 'Kick ass, you got this!'. You even go as far as patting yourself on the back for your genius. And then you implement your plan and oh, fuch…sia! You feel like a complete failure (or if you’re like me, feel like a failure most days).
One such occasion was the time I planned a family trip to Thailand. My precious daughter, Lily, is funny, loves painting and music, she’s sweet and chatty, can name eight whales and 10 cats by their ‘breed’ and has taught me the names of trickier shapes than rhombus and octagon. She is also autistic. Though travelling with a special needs kid is no easy feat, it’s definitely more than worth the effort.
I thought I was prepared but oh my, I was as prepared as an air hostess without make up and bread tongs. But here, I’ll share my hacks for happy holidaying!
SURVIVING HOME AFFAIRS
Loud noises, crowds, new sights and sounds send Lily into a meltdown in no time. Her sensory system is so incredibly sensitive. I made the mistake of going to Home Affairs. DO NOT do that. I was a moron. You can apply online!
- Go to eHome Affairs:
- Register to create an account on the website.
- Select ‘Create new application for Minor’ and then select the option ‘travel documents application’.
- Complete the form, it will list the required documents. You will need scanned copies of both parents’ ID’s. The originals will need to be presented when you collect.
- Online payment is completed through the eHome Affairs portal and verified via your bank.
An airport - with basically every sight and sound you can think of – is just a horrible place for not just autistic kids but any neurotypical kid, really. I had made sure to have access to the Slow Lounge before our flight, but if you’ve ever left the house with a preggy belly and toddler in tow, you’ll understand that every trip feels like the Amazing Race. So, to make your life easier, arrive hours before and try to book a flight as close to nap- or bedtime. Go through the airport slowly and let your child familiarise themselves with their new surroundings before retreating to the Slow Lounge.
Pack these gadgets, guaranteed to make the trip a little easier.
- - noise cancelling headphones
- - an iPad or laptop,
- - a transition toy that makes them feel safe
- - a schedule of what will happen beforehand. Autistic kids thrive on order and routine. Make it fun too. Paint, draw, craft or design a schedule on your computer that tells them - this is your suitcase, this is us travelling to the airport, this is the airport, this is the aeroplane we’ll travel in etc. Better yet, make little felt characters of your family and let them map out their own story.
Make sure you have all your essential documents in a carry pouch or folder. AND DON’T FORGET YOUR MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE.
TIME FOR TAKE OFF
The excitement of taking off was clear on Lily’s face. I loaded all her favourite shows and her school programmes onto my laptop. It felt familiar to her and made her feel at ease. The flight was incredibly long, so she got really bored, really soon. So be sure to pack in colouring-in books, story books, and toys like sensory blocks, bubbles, soothing lava lamp-like gadgets, squishy balls, slime and even a fidget spinner.
Lily (surprisingly) went to sleep with ease. If your little one becomes over stimulated easily, soft ear muffs, their favourite blankie and an eye mask will block out any excess light and sound.
THOUGHT FOR FOOD
Most airlines require that you call and book kids' meals upfront. We flew Emirates and you get a gorgeous little pack of activities along with your meal. Lily loved it! If your child with autism is on a gluten-free, sugar-free diet, remember to point that out.
Like all kiddies on the spectrum, Lily eats like four things – yoghurt, soup, rolls with Nutella and Weet-bix. After a long flight, all the gorgeous scenery, beautiful people and sounds, be prepared that your little pudding will be more than a little overwhelmed.
(By day two, there were lots of tears – from all three of us!) Lily refused to eat anything new. If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ll know all the scrumptious fruits, coconutty milk and mouthwateringly fragrant cuisine are a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. Lily wanted none of that. It smelt and looked too different. We tried green guava juice. We tried everything. It was a firm no.
In the end we were insanely lucky to find the Australian version of Weet-bix, crackers, a yoghurt with similar packaging and fruits to blend into a yummy shake. Stock up at home and take along what you can.
KNOW THE DRILL
When on holiday it’s easy to throw caution to the wind and forget routine. But our little ones love having strict structure. So get them into a routine as soon as possible. Every morning we’d start Lily with her favourite school programme, then a bathroom routine, then let her push the elevator buttons so that she knows we’re going to breakfast, then a quick swim to get those muscles working and stabilise her system, followed by an activity for the day. Involve your moppet – show them the pamphlets and let them choose what they’d like to do so they know what’s coming.
MOMMY SAYS RELAX
With all the planning, strict procedures and meltdowns, it can feel like you haven’t left your stressful life at home behind. But you don’t have to wear your ‘stern mommy’ hat all the time. Often I find that when I relax, Lily relaxes. She is so in tune with emotions. Of course every kiddy is different but the minute we had her in a routine, we didn’t even have to enforce it. We could all just relax and have a blast. Every time my hubby would say, “Don’t worry so much,” I’d look over at Lily just having a ball of a time, laughing and splashing in the water. She collected shells, she swam, she giggled, she ran around, she named fish, boats and birds, she even played in the sand like every other kid.
It may take a little more effort but the memories made you’ll cherish forever.