Traveling with Rachel.

Traveling with an autistic child has opened a new world of stress in our lives. I’ve chronicled many journeys in my MomLife Today blogs. This past weekend we braved the road for another trip. And … it went well.

Former trips have involved driving while our daughter strips naked, challenging potty breaks, and screaming for a stuffed duck.

This time, we prepared for all disasters we could anticipate. Packed the car video playing, which broke five minutes into the trip. Loaded the IPod with her favorite songs, which she ended up not using. We even packed a host of her favorite foods, which got eaten … by the dog.

But even with all of those mishaps, things went well. As we usually go to my sister’s, Rachel knew where she would sleep, what she needed, and even knew the places we stopped to go to the bathroom. On the way home she cried some, but not the six-hour scream fest we usually experience.

What was the difference? One, I think she has the routine down. We don’t deviate too much from our typical travels. We stopped at the same places and stayed at the same house. Two, through our work with Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) we have come so far. Rachel can handle more unpredictable routines and events. She can communicate better. She is better in general.

If we have to travel somewhere new? Here are some things I would consider:

  • Stop at the same type of places, as least some of the time. Yes, exploring new places is great, but there is something to be said for keeping the peace. If it is a regular rest stop, then choose perhaps the same fast food place, as their interiors can be consistent. This helps Rachel get her business done.
  • Plan for a regular bedtime and bring something (blankets, noise machine, music, stuffed animals, pajamas, a night light, or other familiar objects) that can help make the setting familiar. We find that even leaving on a lamp in the room helps Rachel settle down when she wakes up during the night.
  • Don’t plan too much. When we try to cram too much into holidays, Rachel becomes distraught. This means saying no to fun family events, or cutting them very short, but remember that each positive trip will build into the next one.
  • Share the duties with a spouse or other person. This past weekend, for example, we had an ice skating party to attend. Hubby took Rachel to his parents’ house while I went to the party. We knew the noise, crowd, and ice would stress Rachel, so we avoided the issue. If you all need to go, don’t be shy about recruiting others to help. I would take a cousin or other person along to help entertain Rachel. (A gift of thanks or a little cash for their help never hurts, too…)
  • Be flexible. Sometimes plans don’t work out the way we want. Hubby and I have had to come home early or take turns at the dinner table, but when both of us are being unselfish, things tend to work out.
  • This is just a phase. Don’t despair when things go wrong. Just remember that every step in life is just a phase. Things will change.
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