Be organized: For traveling on a plane or long car ride, pack a knapsack with familiar comfort toys, individual snacks, and a few surprises tucked in. this will give your child some sense of control in an otherwise unpredictable, potentially uncomfortable, situation.
To prepare your child for a long trip, talk about the trip no more than a week or two in advance. Your child need not worry about something new, and possibly scary. Create a “social story,” a simple book that you make with your child about the upcoming trip with plenty of details in the sequence that events will occur (e.g., check off calendar to count down to departure day, waving bye bye at the door, form of transportation, locations for each day, coming back home) recorded in pictures and/or simple words. Either make it digitally, or better yet, let your child help you make it by hand scrap-book style, to allow him/her to "practice" the trip and give him/her some control. Tip: Put each page in a plastic page protector. Hold them together with paper fasteners. Take extra plastic pockets along to add pages and store mementos during the trip.
Before bedtime and each morning, rehearse the plan for the day using the social story book and filling in detail. For a young or non-verbal child, make a visual schedule for the day. For an older/verbal child, discuss where you will go and what you are going to do. For children who thrive on knowing the plan in advance, make a check off list for your child to keep in his/her pocket.
Stick to routines whenever possible. For example, keep wake-up, nap time, and bedtime routines as familiar and predictable as you can.
Be flexible with your plans. If your child is exhausted and overwhelmed, leave early.
Don’t be over-ambitious: Schedule rest breaks throughout the day so that your child can relax. A nap or a trip to the pool can be very calming for an over-stimulated child. Swimming is an especially effective pre-bed time activity to help calm your child down to fall asleep easily.
Plan to arrive at our destination early or late to y to avoid the biggest crowds.
Take plenty of activities and tiny toys along to keep your child entertained on line.
Surrounding your child with familiar items such as clothing, toys, or food can be very comforting in an unfamiliar environment.
Bring earplugs or noise cancelling headphones to reduce some of the loud music and noises on the airplane and in amusement parks. They can be real game changers for children who are overwhelmed by multi-sensory overload.
Blog written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR and Chaye Lamm Warburg, MA, OTR, Director POTS