Let’s face it: We humans are creatures of habit. Very few of us like change. After all, change can be scary. Difficult. Uncomfortable. But for a child on the autism spectrum, change is often far more than this. It’s terrifying and overwhelming. It can rob them of their fragile sense of safety and security in the world.
But, whether we like it or not, change is also an inevitable reality of life. And the good news is that if you are the parent or guardian of a child on the spectrum, there are things you can do to help your little one prepare for major life changes. In this way, change does not have to be a fearful trauma. With a bit of preparation, it can be an opportunity for adventure and growth.
Many of us, adults and children alike, spend most of the year daydreaming about summer vacation, a time to break free of the stale routine and the burden of mundane responsibilities and just let loose.
For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, that sense of spontaneity and freedom can be downright terrifying because it signifies the loss of the predictability that so many children on the spectrum rely on to make sense of and order their world.
This by no means suggests that children with ASD don’t or can’t have a great family vacation. It just requires a bit of strategy to transform what could be overwhelming into something fun and magical.
In fact, children on the spectrum often thrive in nature, and family camping trips can be the perfect way to escape from the overstimulation of crowded public spaces and the freneticism of busy work and school days. And, even better, the woods are a perfect laboratory of discovery, perfect for satisfying the endless curiosity piqued by the effervescence of fireflies, the gossamer of butterfly wings, or the spinning web of the writing spider.
For example, if your summer vacation plans involve the great outdoors, there are some important considerations to bear in mind when selecting the ideal spot Camping can be an idyllic family vacation, but not all facilities are created equal.
An important first step in choosing the right campground for your family is to consider your child’s sensory needs. Does the campground consist of gravel trails or wooded pathways. Is it secluded from the sounds of traffic and other nearby campers?
As you prepare for your camping trip, you will also want to ensure that you have reliable access to cell service and/or wi-fi in the event of an emergency. Above all, it’s important to prepare the entire family to be safe while camping, including instructing your children to remain on marked trails and to never venture off alone.
In the days and weeks before the vacation, help your child on the spectrum to become more comfortable with the paraphernalia they’ll need while camping, from durable footwear and knapsacks to sunscreen and sunhats. The more accustomed they become to the sights, sounds, and gear of camping ahead of time, the more relaxing and enjoyable the actual event itself will be.
Unfortunately, not every life change is as enjoyable as a family vacation. Some are simply heartbreaking. Parental divorce is a major life change that tens of millions of children across the US endure every year, and it is never easy.
For children on the spectrum, however, for whom stability and routine are so important, a parent’s divorce can be devastating. But, as profound and initially painful as the change may be, it does not have to rob your child of their sense of happiness, peace, and security.
The key, though, is for parents to coordinate to infuse in their child’s life the greatest measure of predictability and routine as possible. If parents are sharing custody, then the custody schedule should be clear, specific, and detailed. Copies should be given to your child to keep with them, to post in both houses, and even to carry in their backpack to school.
Above all, though, the arrangement should be rigorously adhered to by both parents and, whenever possible, the child’s normal daily routine should remain undisturbed, no matter who has custody on that particular day.
In some instances, a joint custody arrangement may not be in the best interest of the child. If, for example, one parent is simply unable, either financially, emotionally, or logistically, to provide the stability and care the child needs, then sole custody with visitation may be the best option. Before making such decisions, though, it is imperative to consult with the child, usually with the support of the little one’s care team and family law courts, to determine their wishes and help them prepare for this new stage of life.
Life transitions are difficult under the best of circumstances, but they can be especially so for a child who is on the autism spectrum. However, with compassion, understanding, and a bit of preparation, it is possible to help children make these transitions successfully.