The holiday thing is different for all families and I wanted to share our experience as a family
As we prepare for our summer holidays next week we are feeling busy. We are busy eating the food up to leave an empty fridge, we are busy spring cleaning the house like our parents did before a holiday when we were kids and we could never understand why.
We’re busy packing as we go around and making lists of things to remember to pack and little jobs to remember to do like cancel the milk delivery, inform the bank and sort the cat out.
Our youngest is busy trying to work out which toys to take and which book he’d like us to read to him before bed and then there’s the dilemma over whether he takes his swimming trunks or swimming shorts? This is a tricky decision for him and will take him until the morning we leave when the need to finally zip his case up; pushes for his decision to be finally made.
Then there’s our oldest son, he’s busy too. James is busy trying to work through his anxiety and there are many layers to it this year. James is 16 years old and has learning disabilities, he’s amazing and capable of many things however holidays can be a stressful time for him. Being away from his safe base which is his home and his chill out zone which is bedroom, there’s a lot for him to process and settle with. This year there’s an added change for him to process and work with which is that he his schooling life has come to an end which is a milestone for us all.
So why do we do the holiday thing?
We’ve travelled far and wide with James, from Thailand to Italy, from Spain to Portugal, from France to Germany and Wales to Scotland. He can navigate his way around the whole airport environment and process now and he’s even beginning to help us with the directions, information and airport lounge life when where there. He’s now able to go through security on his own and deal with the security pat down without getting anxious, intact the last time he laughed because it tickled him (not quite my experience when I had my pat down).
He’s a dab hand at trying a few words in different languages and he grows so much in confidence with every new experience because it takes focus and presence from him to do this and over the years he’s developed some great skills through travelling.
How do we support James?
The above paragraph all sounds very good but we’ve had years of challenging behaviour where James has struggled to deal with certain situations or sudden stressful changes, we’ve worked tight as a team but it hasn’t been easy, now through trial and error we’ve developed a strong plan that works f0r James just like many other parents and carers do in order to ensure the best foundation of support is in place. Here is what we do to support James but we are always – always open for other suggestions so please do add your own and share your great tips.
- When it comes to holidays; last minutes ones don’t work for James because he hasn’t had time to work through so we make sure we discuss the concept in advance.
- We research accessibility, the culture the environment and as much as we can. We try to make sure we are going to a more quieter place if it’s more than a couple of days. A city break is okay for a little while but it’s sensory overload and stressful for more than that.
- We know the best times to travel now regarding airport crowds and we try to avoid busy travelling times, airport customer service is usually good at giving this information.
- When the holiday is booked he knows when we will be leaving and when he will next be back in his bedroom, two very important pieces of information because a schedule helps James feel safer.
- James loves a map and we have a huge atlas and we show the boys where we are going and put it into context with surrounding islands or countries.
- Google maps and google earth; they help James actually go there and look around. Once James did that before we went on a holiday to Spain and he actually recognised some of the streets and shops and way around from his Google Earth research. So it was all familiar before he even got there.
- We let him know the plan such as: We’re flying from Liverpool, landing at Bordeaux and we’ll pick a car up that we’ve hired then we’ll drive on to… James now knows that whatever we do as long as we do it together he’s safe and as long as he knows as much of the plan as we do then he go with that.
- There’s always a comfort toy on him and we make sure he has that to hand – usually an Eddie Stobbart toy cab. This will either be in his hand or in his pocket, we are mindful around security taking it to check it and with James able to watch them like a hawk; he’s usually very good at letting it go to them for a few seconds.
- When we land we immediate sort out his room (his new safe space). We let him take his bed up and we put in anchoring sentences such as letting him know that if he feels he needs some chill out space then he has his room. From then on he’s much more settled and his toys will get put about the place and he’ll begin his homestead.
- We listen. We listen to what he needs and make sure he feels heard.
- Then we tick off the list a few things that we need to do to ensure he is and feels safe.
- Above all we resource. We resource ourselves as much as possible so we can maintain our resilience and we do our best to keep James resourced so that he has the space to process how he is feeling before it affects his behaviour in a way that exhausts and drains him.
The holiday thing with James is much easier these days because we’ve been doing this for years so we can provide a smooth operation, also James has come to learn that holidays are short trips and that he will be back in his bedroom surrounded by his multitude of Eddie Stobbart trucks and other little gems that he loves.
I used to sling a few things in a bag, grab my passport and run like the wind over a border to catch the rays, life isn’t that slick and simple anymore but the joy, the absolute joy that we see when we share worldly experiences with the boys is perfect. Once James has got used to somewhere – he will still do his up and down and never quite managing to sit still – but he really engages, has a great time and helps out.
We find our own ways to get things done and now I can completely appreciate the project management style approach to making these experiences happen and my full respect to all who face the challenge of going that extra few miles if they have the opportunity.
Summer holidays for people who have children and young adults with physical or learning disabilities can be a really really stressful time, schedules, care, activities, appointments, work and all else that goes with it can be one tough slog so to all you amazing parents, siblings, family members and carers who go that extra bit to make these experiences happen; you are truly amazing.
Let’s kick start the summer off knowing that.