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Special needs vacations are arguably more important to special needs families than vacations are to typical families. A typical family can often take a long day trip, go out to a special or new restaurant, or stay up late for an event or party without thinking twice. Sometimes that could just be one weekend. If your special needs family is like mine, then each and every one of those special occasions might cause hours – or days- of fall out in the form of disrupted sleep and eating patterns, and difficult behaviors. Putting them all together is really pushing the envelope.
Why Special Needs Vacations?
Sure, you can try sibling travel. Or, if you are lucky, couples travel. But the special needs vacation – with the family – is still important and valuable. Do you have a water-loving kid? Then swimming in an outdoor pool in the middle of the winter can be mind-blowing to them. The sensory experience of being someplace new is an important learning process for individuals with special needs, but you need to be thoughtful.
In order to make your special needs vacation successful, you need to set your family up for success. If not, your vacation becomes a “vacation” where everyone is on edge and far from relaxed. Here are the three areas that we focused on when planning the Piece of Mind Retreat – we hope they’ll bring you peace of mind on your next special needs vacation:
For most families, this is the highest priority. Without a safe, secure environment, there is no peace of mind and your vacation becomes a “vacation.” This means a fenced outdoor area and gated stairways. It means a space without expensive or fussy decor – it’s hard to relax when you feel you need to be ready to pounce at any moment. (And, to the people who left their 100+ piece shell collection in their rental home, just know that created the exact opposite of peace of mind.)
It means the stove top a smooth, solid surface instead of tempting gas. It means a room for your special needs loved one to sleep in that either does not have a bathroom, or can have the bathroom secured (because who wants to wake up to a sink or tub overflowing in the middle of the night?) It means that bathroom might have an adjustable toilet seat, and that the window coverings are cordless. It also means that the door to the room may be secured at night.
This is, after all, a vacation, so comfort and relaxation are essential. Ideally, your accommodations include some aspect of vacation that you can access without leaving. And that may vary for different families. But some things make vacations more fun for everyone. A pool is a great start – especially in a warm location when you are visiting from a colder one. A fully-stocked kitchen means it’s easy to cook meals for picky eaters or those on restricted diets.
An outdoor living space with a grill makes more flexible meals – bonus points if it has a view for a sunset cocktail. If you have a tall family, king-sized beds can make the difference between an enjoyable week and one to endure. And activities onsite – like space for volleyball or frisbee, large screen TVs, and a sensory space – means everyone will have their needs met – including the siblings. And being a short walk or drive away from beaches, parks, restaurants and other attractions is also helpful.
If you are like many people, you may have grown up with more flexible ideas of “privacy” while on a vacation. As a child, teen and young adult, I shared pull-out couches with my sisters, slept in tents with the entire family, and bunked in youth hostels and other shared spaced. But autism changes things.
If you have a loved one with special needs, chances are they may not be able to share a room with someone else, let alone a bed. And having separate areas where adults can have conversations – with or without a bottle of wine – after bedtime can make a world of difference.
If your family is like mine, we often explore local foods via takeout – so areas to eat the local delicacies- ideally with a view – are important. Having some space between houses is also helpful – shared walls and stacked condos or townhomes can create tension.
In sum, your family needs a safe, comfortable space that allows you to enjoy your vacation without worries of interrupting other vacationers – or of spilling something on that white carpet. How have you found peace of mind on your special needs vacations? Comment below.
Want some tips to plan your next vacation – maybe even to the Piece of Mind Retreat? Click here to download our Ultimate Autism Vacation Planner.