I know you are probably thinking, what vacation!? Everyone’s plans and vacations are being cancelled daily… Ours too… We were supposed to be boarding an airplane this weekend for a much anticipated week long family get away. But since Covid-19 has decided to erase our getaway with the kids and marker in a long term staycation with the kiddos I decided I could still write about what we would have been doing this past week if we were still on track.
So let’s talk about how my husband and I prepped Mr. L for a fun vacation to Disney World when he was 4 years old. Since his diagnosis we’ve been able to take the family to Disney World, Six Flags, a couple Great Wolf Lodges, and a Disney Cruise. Each of these have needed a little different approach to the prep work, but the bigger general steps have been the same.
Do you know how many review videos are out there for everything!? Restaurants, amusement parks, museums, airlines, cities, and the list goes on and on. Seriously, what do you want to check out? Learn more about? Or is there a place you want to visit but either you can’t because of your health or finances? Or you can only afford one vacation anytime soon so you want to make sure you will really like it? YouTube it. We did this when we were preparing our boys for a Disney World trip. We showed them the campsite, the monorail, and the buses. We also looked up reviews of the rides that showed walking through the entire queue, how to get on the ride, how to buckle up, the length and noise of the ride, and how to get out.
We did this to teach our boys that there are many steps, and to familiarize them with the routines of the ride. Like how to wait for a ride, how to be safe on the ride, and that you have to get off to let others have a turn too. They also got excited seeing the rides, so that helped us feel more confident as parents that the trip was going to be worth the $ and the work.
2nd- Social Stories
I was lucky enough to have an ABA therapist who put together a social story for my son to help teach him all the steps of the trip. This helped Mr. L learn how many steps it would take to actually get to the Magic Kingdom park in Disney World. That when we say, hey we are going to Disney tomorrow, that doesn’t mean he will sit in his car seat for 10 min and then we will get in line for Space Mountain right after.
This social story taught about how I would pack my son’s clothes, how my husband would load up the car, how we would drive for a very long time and they could watch movies in the car, etc. All the drawn out steps to a road trip and how to get back home. And I got to tell you my oldest kiddo studied that little paper, stapled together book for that whole week leading up, and looked it over every night before going to bed. Mr. L would ask me to read it sometimes, and other times he just wanted to study it himself. It was like his own planner or itinerary for the trip.
3rd- The countdown
I had marked on our calendar the day we would leave and for how long we would be gone. Mr. L like to ask me to mark off another day, tell him what day of the week it was and count how many more days before we would get to leave. I felt like this was more then just building excitement for the actual trip. It was my son’s way of figuring out the world around him. Like if today is a Tuesday then I have therapy, and then tomorrow will be Wednesday and I will have speech, etc. This daily process helped him work out what he would be doing in a week instead of his usual routine.
4th- The Harness
This one is going to be a bit controversial but really I don’t care. This isn’t an apology, it’s more of a warning. I didn’t put my 2 year old and 4 year old child with special needs in cute little harness, monkey backpacks. Nope! I put them in dog collars. First off, they picked the dog collars and I put them around their waist like a cute little belt. Secondly, I tried the monkey back pack first and Mr. L acted like he was on fire flailing around on the floor like Golum from Lord of the Rings when he got chained. He hated being strapped in, he hated having the stuffed animal on his back, and he hated the lack of freedom the tether provided.
So I went to the good ol’ Walmart, let my kids each pick out their favorite giant dog collar, and I got 2 retractable leashes and that weekend we started practicing the kids wearing them. Getting the boys to wear the collars around their tummies was easy! They thought they were so cool because they had super hero’s and sports on them. They even had fun getting hooked up to the retractable leash and chasing each other around. But they needed to learn the purpose of the whole thing, and that took practice. By the time the trip came, both the boys loved their leashes because it meant they got to go play outside and go exploring on a new adventure.
When there was room I could let Mr. L wander out to the end of his leash, but when we needed to cross a street or were in a crowd of people, he learned I had to keep it close and him close to me! My oldest who is on the autism spectrum has come a long way in understanding safety. He now knows to ask if it is safe before crossing a road, and jumps to the curb if he hears a car coming. But back when we used those leashes… He would run out into roads, he would want to chase cars, he would randomly take off and just go running and keep going with all thoughts focused on who knows what. And you could forget about yelling after him… Because that was a waste of his time.
The biggest reason we put him into a special needs school in the first place was because he was prone to elope, and he was so sneaky about it at times too. He would quietly be there, and just like that be quietly gone. So taking two littles to the big place of Disney World required an added line of precaution.
Last but not least, we wrote our cell numbers on stickers and stuck them to the back of their shirts. No names, nothing to call them by. Just a last hope that if either of my kids got away, that a good person would call the cell number on the back of their shirt so we would know where to find them.
Do you have any non-traditional ways you plan for a vacation? Let us know in the comments below 😎☀️🏖