If you have a child with a sensory processing disorder and/or other isms, extra planning can help make the experience more successful and less stressful for everyone. When you plan your vacation, think about your child’s sensory needs and how they respond to different environments. Also consider the amount of structure they need or tolerate. Every child’s needs are different and parents need to be detectives in order to discover what works best for their child.
Getting to Destination
The sensory seeking child often struggles when they need to be still, especially for extended periods of time such as during airplane rides, long car rides, etc.
Try to ‘pre-load’ your child’s nervous system by engaging them in physical activity first. Spend 20-30 minutes in vigorous play before heading out on the trip if possible.
Offer Heavy Work & Oral Sensory Input
When they need to sit, provide heavy work activities for their hands ([easyazon-link asin=”B000V64HZ2″ locale=”us”]play-doh[/easyazon-link]/clay, [easyazon-link asin=”B000R9V4XQ” locale=”us”]pop beads[/easyazon-link], [easyazon-link asin=”B0002TMX4U” locale=”us”]hole puncher[/easyazon-link]) and something for their mouths (gum, star bursts, fruit leather, bagels, jerky, [easyazon-link asin=”B007OX9X9K” locale=”us”]water bottle[/easyazon-link] with straw).
Add Movement Breaks
If traveling by car, stop every 1-2 hours at a roadside park for a movement break. Have a [easyazon-link asin=”B000JT5NZO” locale=”us”]ball[/easyazon-link], [easyazon-link asin=”B00005BUH0″ locale=”us”]frisbee[/easyazon-link], [easyazon-link asin=”B001EU9M1S” locale=”us”]theraband[/easyazon-link], etc. ready to facilitate active play.
When your child is engaged in new and exciting activities, transitions can be even more challenging than usual.
Create a Visual Schedule
Consider using a visual schedule so that your child knows what to expect.
Wind Down with Calming Activities
Plan calmer activities (building a sand castle, riding a train) at the end of the day to help your child make a smooth transition from a stimulating environment back to the hotel, cottage or grandma’s house.
Add Backpacks & Straws
Have your child wear a [easyazon-link asin=”B0029XFHDG” locale=”us”]backpack[/easyazon-link] with 5 – 10% of his or her body weight. Back at the car, provide a snack including something crunchy or chewy and a drink with a straw.
Listen for Transitions
If your child is doing a [easyazon-link asin=”B0036VAULO” locale=”us”]Theraputic Listening or a similar program[/easyazon-link], this may be a good time to use it. Ask your therapist for a suggestion about a good CD for this transition.
Fun with Fidgets
Provide a fidget (e.g. [easyazon-link asin=”B0006LA512″ locale=”us”]squeeze ball[/easyazon-link], [easyazon-link asin=”B0044V7BE4″ locale=”us”]theraputty[/easyazon-link], etc.) for the ride.
Even though children who are sensory seekers tend to like a lot of activity, all children can become overloaded. Don’t pack every day with activities, especially if you are seeing lots of relatives or are spending the week at a destination such as Walt Disney. Build in some times that are less stimulating, allowing your child time to regroup.
A good strategy for Disney is to do the park in the morning. Leave for lunch and spend the afternoon at the pool or one of Disney’s water parks and then head back to the main park in the late afternoon.
Vacation Ideas for the Sensory Seeker
Thrive at the Beach
We see many children who thrive at the beach. Walking/running on the beach, digging in the sand, playing in the water, being knocked over by waves often provides an intensive sensory diet that is hard to match back at home.
Fun at a Farm or Dude Ranch
For some children this is a great option. Riding a horse, helping out with farm chores, and room to run again provides a natural sensory diet. The opportunity to interact with animals is an extra plus for many children.
Intensity of Amusement Parks
These are especially appropriate for children who under-register vestibular input. The various rides, including roller coasters, again provide intensive sensory input opportunities. This is not as good for children with significant regulatory difficulties as the crowds of people can send them over the edge.
If you have a sensory seeking child, with a bit extra planning you can plan for a wonderful vacation pleasing to all on the trip. Consider the destination environment as well as the structure of the day – with some detective work, you will discover what works best for your child. If you have a sensory defensive child, check out Vacations and Tips for Traveling with Your Sensitive Child.