Our Autism Story – “Vacations”
Vacations can be challenging for our family! Everything is unpredictable and unfamiliar for Brahm. Vacations can be filled with sensory overload and high anxiety, which can cause the absolute worst of meltdowns. Several years ago, we still tried to do the traditional family vacation where you try to pack as much as possible into each day. We quickly learned that just didn’t work for us. Each vacation we take, we get a little better at understanding Brahm’s needs and how we can best structure the vacation to make sure everyone is happy. We are thrilled to say this is one area where…WE HAVE FIGURED IT OUT!!! (Mostly!)
Here are the rules we try to follow when going on vacation:
Driving – It’s really tough being stuck on an airplane with no escape plan if a meltdown happens. So, we drive whenever possible. Brahm knows the comfort of the car and actually does really well, even for really long drives.
Bunk Beds – We purposely book hotel suites with bunk beds. Brahm has a really tough time sleeping (at home, and especially away from home). Bunk beds give Brahm some separation from the rest of us and also give him something “expected” when everything else about the vacation is unexpected – this really helps calm his anxiety.
Stroller – Brahm’s stroller is critical for a few reasons. It is his “safe” place where he knows he can store all his things, take a break when he is overwhelmed, and come back to after we do a ride / activity – it is a major anxiety reliever. Brahm’s stroller also prevents him from wandering off, which is a major concern when we’re at really crowded places. Brahm also physically can’t walk the entirety of a park, so his stroller is necessary for its intended purposes.
NO Shows – Shows (like the ones at Disney) are guaranteed to cause the most massive meltdowns, with sensory overload, anxiety, and no escape route. We will NOT, for any reason, go to a show!
Take Breaks – We make a point to take many, many breaks throughout the day. If the park has a sensory room, we try to hit it up at least a couple times a day. Otherwise, we will try to find a quiet corner and just hang out for a while in between all the chaos of rides and attractions. This really helps calm Brahm’s anxiety and gives him a sensory break.
Popsicles – This one may sound silly, but we’ve found it is a HUGE key to success. Popsicles have become Brahm’s go-to dessert (he is allowed one after every dinner). I think there is something about the coldness of the popsicle that actually calms Brahm down. Brahm also overheats easily, so popsicles are awesome when it’s hot outside. When we are at a park, we typically stop about every hour to get Brahm (and Helena!) a popsicle.
Escape Plan – Wherever we go, we make sure we have an escape plan where we can exit in an instant if Brahm goes into meltdown mode.
Divide and Conquer – There are just some things we cannot do all together with the four of us. For example, Helena wants to go zip lining on our upcoming vacation. This just won’t work for Brahm (safety and other issues). So, Nick and I are splitting up – each taking one kid to an activity that works best for them. I hate the idea of splitting the family up, but we’ve finally come to realize it’s necessary.
Shorten Our Days – It works best for us to NOT spend the entire day at a park. When we try to push it to park-close, we are guaranteed to have a meltdown, as our big man just cannot handle that amount of time dealing with all the things that are difficult for him. (And then we have to wait in line and have an entire bus ride working through a meltdown – definitely not ideal!)
Season Passes – We LOVE season passes. It allows us to spend a partial day at a park and not feel bad about leaving early.
Know When to Quit – We can tell when Brahm is going to have a tough day and when he is having a meltdown that will persist for a really long time. We’ve gotten smarter at knowing when to throw in the towel, head back to the hotel, and try again tomorrow!
Know Our Limitations – Although I really, really want to be able to have a “typical” family vacation, we’ve come to realize it just doesn’t work for us. We try our best to follow the above rules and not feel bad if we can’t do something. (Definitely easier said than done!)
We had an amazing vacation at Disney World with Nick’s parents this past November. I think it was the first vacation where we tried to implement a lot of the above rules. That, coupled with Nick’s parents being incredibly supportive, helpful, and just plain fun, made it a super enjoyable and memorable trip for all of us!
We have some big plans for this summer, too! We’re going back to Dollywood, where Brahm thinks Miss Dolly Parton made the entire park just for him! We’re making a stop at Abe Lincoln’s house on the way down and seeing the Titanic museum in Tennessee just for Brahm. Helena is going to try zip lining through the Smokies and indoor skydiving for the first time! There will be bunk beds, season passes, a stroller, sensory room breaks, lots of popsicles, a really long drive, two tired parents, and hopefully a ton of happiness for all!
P.S. – Below are some pictures and a video from our Disney trip. Enjoy!