Some children have nervous systems that are easily overwhelmed. They may demonstrate sensory defensiveness and/or poor sensory regulation/modulation. As a result, careful planning is needed to make summer travel plans successful.
Establish Familiar Routines
Children with sensory defensiveness benefit from predictability and familiarity. Where ever your summer travel plans take you, establish a routine to the days.
In thinking about the day’s activities, less is typically better.
If you are using sensory supports such as deep pressure protocol, sensory diet, therapeutic listening, etc, continue these and ask your child’s occupational therapist if any adjustments should be made to the program you are currently implementing.
Pack favorite clothes, soap, shampoo, toothpaste.
Remember sunglasses and hat for outdoor activities.
Ear plugs or sound-occluding headphones may be helpful.
Overwhelm & Relatives
For many children, visiting people they don’t know very well is overwhelming. Common issues to the sensory defensive child may include the following:
People wanting to hug and kiss them or even pick them up.
People that may be loud.
Houses that may smell funny.
Food that is different from what they are used to.
Let your relatives know what works for your child. Let them know that your child’s need for space is not a reflection on whether or not they like that person. Tips for interacting with relatives may include:
Let your child initiate any physical interaction.
Establish a safe, quiet place your child can retreat to as needed.
Bring familiar items such as toys, music, books, foods, pillow, or a favorite blanket. These familiar items may make sleeping, play, and eating more comfortable for your sensory defensive child.
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Plan for Down Time during Summer Travel
Remember that even when your child is having a good time, it can still be draining on their nervous system. They will require some quiet time to recoup during any summer travel plans you make.
If touring a busy city, find a quiet place to eat. Consider going back to the hotel room for a bit. Find and play in a park for a while.
Giving a sensitive child time to regroup can help them manage themselves better. This down time can help to reduce and even prevent meltdowns.
Honor Your Child’s Perception
While it can be frustrating to parents, when children react negatively to experiences that are generally perceived as being fun, it is important to recognize that their reactions are based on how their nervous system perceives the experience.
Listen to your child and modify your plans.
While it is fine to expose your child to new experiences and gently encourage their participation, be careful not to force your child to engage in an activity that for them is at best uncomfortable and at worse triggers a fight-flight or fright-freeze response.
For some children, the beach in the summer is overwhelming. The sand, splashing, cold, salty water, the hot sun and lots of people can put sensory defensive children into sensory overload.
For some children, movement is frightening. For these children going on rides, especially roller coasters is the last thing they want to do. Keep it simple and low-keyed.
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Summer Travel Ideas for Sensory Defensive Kids
Although interests and tolerance levels vary from one child to the next, the following summer travel vacations are suggestions that might work well for the sensory defensive child.
A stay-cation is a vacation from home. Build your vacation around a variety of day trips. Day trips allow your child the security of returning to the familiarity of home each night.
Establish a home base at a familiar cabin or motel. Consider children’s museums, zoos, aquariums and parks. Take your time and be flexible. Be on the ready to change your plans if a destination does not work out.
Off season is the optimal time to visit large amusement parts. However, since this is summer we are talking about, there is no off-season option.
Consider going mid-week as there will be less crowds and shorter lines.
Consider, smaller regional parks.
All parks offer a variety of experiences. Pick those that are low-key and geared to your child’s interests if possible.
If you do make the Disney trip or another larger destination, ask your doctor for a medical release to obtain a Guest Assistance Card. These cards will be so useful in avoiding long waiting lines.
Travel and summer vacations are possible with your sensory defensive child. Just keep in the forefront of your mind that their little nervous systems become easily overwhelmed. As a result, they may demonstrate poor self-regulation and meltdowns may be seen. With the suggestions above, I hope that your careful planning with make for a successful summer vacation.
We would love to hear about your summer vacations and if any of these tips were helpful to you. Share a picture and your destination on our Facebook page.