One of the saddest realities for families with special needs children is that leisure time can seem like an impossible dream. The more severe the child’s disability, the harder it is to plan vacations, outings, or even a quick trip to the grocery store. Many families become prisoners of their homes. It just feels like too much trouble, and too scary, to get out and experience fun and recreation. What if you forget important medical equipment? What if something goes wrong? Maybe the child has serious behavior problems. Maybe she screams constantly or causes a spectacle in public. The thought of sitting down in a restaurant while your daughter is in hysterics is not a pleasant one. It’s just easier to heat up some frozen dinners at home.
Having Fun is Important!
However, in my opinion families desperately need vacation time together. They need to get out and see the world. Doing so is vitally important for your child as well. He needs to have new and interesting experiences to stimulate his cognitive abilities and imagination. He needs to see how human beings interact with one another, and how they behave. Even the most severely disabled child learns by experience. And the more exposure to the outside world, the more the child can learn to become a part of it.
A bit of advance planning and a few phone calls can make a big difference in your ability to make outings smooth and trouble-free:
1. Make a trip list. Write down everything your child must have access to on an overnight or lengthy outing away from home. Include medications, comfort objects, names and numbers of physicians, etc. Have this list printed out and handy to refer to for family trips.
2. Have a bag ready for spontaneous outings. Load it with things your child might need in the event of an emergency, like a change of clothes, simple first aid supplies, etc. This can help make spur-of-the-moment excursions possible, and head-off worry.
3. Find family-friendly restaurants, and call in advance. Ask what accommodations could be made for your child, like a table in the corner, a private section, or space for a wheelchair at a table. Most restaurants will be more than happy to help. If they seem unaccommodating, look elsewhere.
4. Call the zoo, museum, amusement park, theater, etc. in advance. Find out all about their accommodations for special needs children. Disneyland, for example, has a fantastic program for guests with disabilities of all kinds. Don’t try to brave it on your own out of pride. If special assistance is offered, take advantage of the help.
5. Start with small outings and move toward bigger ones. For example, regularly take a picnic lunch to local parks, where you can still maintain some privacy and control, and leave at will. Gradually head out to areas with bigger crowds and more noise. Follow your child’s lead. What is he able to handle?
6. Set a goal that you will make one simple family outing every week, and a larger one each month. Plan a summer vacation that your child can enjoy.
7. Take lots of pictures and document your special outings!
8. Don’t let stares, remarks, or ignorance stop you. People who would treat you rudely are frankly, in a word, pathetic. Don’t let insensitive individuals ruin your family fun.
Judy Winter, the mother of a son with cerebral palsy and author of the book “Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs” shared the following:
“We began adding fun back into our lives very slowly, and we did not give up. It took lots of determination for us to stay with it. But each time we did, Eric’s tolerance, and our leisure time, increased. Little by little, our son got used to noise and crowds, and we claimed more fun family times. You don’t know what’s possible with your child unless you try. Each small step may lead to the next success.”
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.