What do you take into account when booking your holiday? Somewhere with lots of sun, good entertainment, water sports, a pool with lots of slides, peace and quiet? We wanted all these things for our holiday but most of all we wanted somewhere the boys would be happy and where the big lad would feel comfortable, confident and relaxed. Quite a shopping list really.
The big lad's needs have always come first. Therefore the last few years we have holidayed in familiar places and stuck to Efteling or Centre Parks. The good thing about Centre Parks is that they are all very similar. The accommodation largely mirroring one another so he felt safe, comfortable and immediately at home.
Last year hubby and I decided that enough was enough and it was time to choose a different holiday. One with guaranteed good weather. The boys are older now and more independent, both can swim (although the little man hasn't got his diploma yet). But we worried about how the big lad would respond to this. A strange country, food, bed, people etc
Here are my top tips to help any child transition smoothly into a holiday:
1) Involve them in choosing the hotel or destination.
2) Mark the date on a calendar and regularly remind them of when you will be leaving.
3) Before you go look at pictures on the Internet and talk about what you will do when there.
4) Don't plan too much. Especially the first few days. Let them get acclimatised.
5) Bring a favourite toy/game/video game/music player etc to use as an escape during stressful times.
6) Give a verbal rundown of what you will do each day so they are prepared for what will happen.
7) Trips to busy and unfamiliar town centres/tourist attractions can be really stressful. Be prepared to leave if your child needs to. Have a safe word or phrase. (Take extra money for a taxi if on a planned excursion.)
8) Your child may not want to join in with the kids club straight away. Break them in gently. Maybe just 1/2 hour to start. Show them the room. Introduce them to the staff. Take a familiar toy/game.
9) Inform the kids club staff of any special needs your child may have. Be specific about those needs. Don't just say he is autistic/has ADHD do say e.g. he won't respond unless you first use his name/he will watch first/he will need help to join in.
10) Find a sunbathing spot close to the club so your child always knows you are at hand if they need you. Check in regularly!
11) Have a siesta every day. Tiredness leads to meltdowns. Make sure that your child has at least an hours rest (perhaps in the hottest period). They may also have more energy for the evenings entertainment!
12) Relax! If you are stressed, your child will pick up on this.
We didn't have one meltdown during the holiday. I was so proud of the big lad (and the little man naturally) by the end of the trip they joined in with games in the club, danced on the stage, the big lad even accepted a diploma and special animation team T-shirt from the entertainment staff, on stage, in front of hundreds of people. My little stars!
I want my son to experience the world he lives in. Special needs people should not be marginalised. And special needs parents deserve a break too. With good preparation it is possible! Now all we need to do is decide where to go next year.