Waiting = Meltdown?

For years, Gracie struggled with waiting. Patience was not her strong suit. Gracie liked to do things when Gracie liked to do them. And when she wanted something, she wanted it now. I can say that those feelings probably haven’t changed. However, her reaction to them has. Screaming, yelling, spitting, and hitting. Bending her joints, scratching herself and pulling her hair. Those were her ways telling me she was done and that she didn’t want to wait any longer.

When eating, Gracie used to throw her dishes across the room when she was done. Made sense to her. She was done and didn’t have the words to tell us. Quickest way for them to disappear is to throw them. Being in a restaurant Gracie would finish her meal in less than 5 minutes. Then, scream, because she was ready to go even though the rest of the family still had most of their plate left to finish.

Standing in line at MarineLand, the Ferris Wheel, Maid of the Mist, Wonderland, or even waiting for her turn on the swing or slide at the park or school was torture for her. Gracie didn’t have time to waste and she continues to always think ahead rather than stay in the moment. Not having the words to express herself was another reason for these reactions.

So, we started small. I mean, very small steps. We started with counting to 10 when she was done. Before she had the chance to eat her last bite and whip that plate across the room like a frisbee, I’d grab it, count to 10 and let her out of her high chair. We counted to 10 for several days before moving to 15 seconds and then 20 seconds and so on. Once we were getting to about 40 or 50 seconds, I bought a timer from the dollar store and we put the timer on. We still counted with the timer at the beginning until the beeping alarm went off. It became a game for the whole family. The kids would join in with counting and big smiles. Once we mastered the timer and she could wait 5 minutes, we attempted it at a restaurant. I would call ahead and order our food because the timer had only been practiced at the end of her meal. Gracie was able to successfully join the family, eat her meal and wait 5 minutes at a restaurant, then her dad or I would take her outside or to the car while we waited for the others to finish their meal in peace. We continued to do the same thing with the timer as we did with the counting. Increasing by 30 seconds at a time. Beginning at home and practicing in public. We had timers everywhere!

This strategy worked for waiting in lines as well. We would still get the pass that was offered to those with special needs, but we would make sure to not use it for the rides with a much smaller line. Having a timer on (we added a few more minutes on than expected just in case) would help Gracie stand in line. Seeing the numbers decrease was all she needed eventually. Of course we had snacks and fidgets, etc. But seeing the time count down reassured her that what she wanted was about to happen.

Today, Gracie waited in a line to advocate for herself to get the pass at Wonderland. She explained to the lady that she has autism and has a hard time with waiting longer than 45 minutes, noise and crowded spaces. All while dad was laying in the grass on a hill, reading a book, in the parking lot. This is something to celebrate!

Gracie and her cousin Heidi with Linus at Canada’s Wonderland
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Sibling Love

Our Christmas this year was spent at Lake Louise with the 5 of us sharing one hotel room and spending every minute together. We didn’t know how this was going to work out. They love each other. But let’s be honest, they each have their own needs, likes, dislikes, and routines. And one of them (miss Gracie) can get very excited and anxious over a change in her routine. And no matter how much we try to prepare her, there are always unexpected mishaps that occur. A lot of patience was needed in order for this trip to go smoothly. And smoothly it did. For the most part. I was so amazed at their level of patience and friendship with each other. I don’t know if it’s because they are all growing up and maturing or just plain luck. I’d like to believe they’ve matured.

Gowing up wasn’t always easy. Having three kids and only two hands made it difficult to be there for all 3 at the same time. The screaming and meltdowns, refusals and challenges were at their peak when Gracie was younger. Screaming in the middle of night and waking the entire house up made it difficult to get a good night sleep which made dealing with those challenges even harder. For everyone. The kids got good at going to their rooms and shutting the door to minimize the noise. Emma was more of a helper if she thought she could help calm her. She became Gracie’s go-to person at school. And when Emma graduated from high school, Josh took on that role.

I know we can worry about siblings having to grow up faster, feeling pressure to behave more or do well in all areas of their life, taking on more responsibility than a child should, and we worry about not being able to meet their needs when they have a sibling whose needs exceed theirs. Especially if there are health related concerns that require you to travel to doctors appointments and hospital visits. But what can happen is each sibling becomes more patient and understanding. Non-judgemental and kind to others, helping those who are in distress. My kids aren’t perfect and I know as they were growing up, they’ve said or done things that I wouldn’t be proud of. But behind the scenes, they’ve done some pretty amazing things that have helped others who didn’t feel like they fit in or were struggling with life, in tremendous ways, and little ways, that know one else will know of.

I have another post called “Sibling Sanity” that shares some strategies on how to best deal with challenging times and how to best support those siblings. Click on the link above to bring you there.

Please know this post is meant to share with you the growth and positive outcomes that can arise as the kids get older. It will be okay. You’ve raised great kids! Trust that all you’ve taught them will present itself. And if they can’t stand each other right now, they will soon enough!

If you haven’t been told this yet today….YOU are a GREAT parent!

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A-ha Moment! Teaching vs. Correcting

Ok, I know I just posted a new blog post yesterday. And I still feel the same way and true to what I wrote. BUT…I had this a-ha moment as I was doing the hashtags on the Facebook group when posting the link. Specifically the hashtag #whenisteachingtoomuch…the same wording as the title. My first thought was, “Am I teaching or correcting?”

I’ve always seen it as teaching her. Helping her grow. She has to learn these life skills if she’s going to live without me someday. She has to know how to PROPERLY do these things. But does she really? If she manages just fine when I’m not with her every single moment, does she really need to do them properly? And what does that even mean? Properly. My way? My way of doing things doesn’t mean that she needs to do them the same way. Even though I like the dishwasher filled a certain way and she may leave cups facing up that get filled with water, but hey, they are still getting washed, even if a little bit LOL Does that spatula need to go in the drawer that I’ve allocated it to? It’s still put away, even if it’s in another cupboard. Looking at these sorts of things and picturing her in her own home someday, I realize that she will be just fine! The kitchen, living room, fridge, etc. are not her space. But, she knows where everything is in her own room and manages to do a fine job of keeping herself organized.

She is keeping track of her work schedule by printing it out and adding it to her calendar. She plugs her phone into its charger each night so it is ready for the next day. She makes sure her uniforms are washed and clean and ready to go for her next shift. She showers and uses soap, even though we are starting to notice she’s not rinsing her hair long enough, so that is something I can teach her about. The constant correcting is probably equivalent to constant put-downs. And I get reminded sometimes by Gracie that “I’m on her a lot today”.

I am grateful she has the words to tell me that when I need to hear it. And if your child doesn’t have the actual words, watch their body language. The eye rolls, the vocalizations, stimming, ignoring, whatever they do that shows you they aren’t happy…you know your child best.

I think for myself, I’m going to actually write down the things that are my “pet peeves” list that won’t matter if Gracie does them when living in her own home. I will try to focus on the things that will make a difference if NOT done “properly” like hygiene, cleanliness, and safety.

This isn’t going to be easy! I’ve created a habit that will be hard to change. But I’ll do my best. I’ve also heard that for every negative comment a child receives, they need four positive ones to counteract that. So I best get my lovin’ on!!

Thanks for listening! Sometimes just saying things “out loud” or writing them out helps me see the bigger picture.

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When Is Teaching Too Much?

Gracie and her love of everything Christmas!

The last thing we want is for our kids to feel like they are not good enough. But I have to say, I was someone who, unintentionally, consistently crushed Gracie’s confidence, every time I tried to teach her the “appropriate way” to do something. I think I still do. I know I do! It’s just hard to admit. My heart was in the right place. If I could teach her these life skills and help her be the most independent person she can be, her life will be full. I just need to figure out what a full and happy life means to her. It’s her life. Not mine. I forget that sometimes.

Correcting her has actually become an automatic response, even though I’ve been trying to “teach” the same things for years! As a parent, it just seems to be in us to instinctually teach our young. Even when I make myself consciously aware, and tell myself I will let the small stuff slide, I can’t go 5 minutes!

I did become aware of this when I saw her sweet soul defeated. Grade 7 & 8 were the hardest years of her life. Not only did she have a mom that was on her at home, but she also had support staff trying to help her. Yet, she didn’t want to be different than her peers. She was embarrassed to need the help. That developmental gap between her and her peers had been growing since grade 2 and was at its peak! She was now considered weird for liking Treehouse tv, Scooby doo, and Santa Claus. The demands and expectations for someone her age grew and grew.

At times, I wish I had done things differently. I do, however, realize that my reactions were based on fear. Fear for her future and wanting the best for her. I needed (and need) to remember that she learns a different way. Her actions aren’t out of spite or a wish to push my buttons. (Even though it often felt that way!) But when I look at her “behaviour” as brain-based “symptoms” and see her at her developmental age as opposed to her actual numerical age, this helps me tremendously. I still need reminders though! It’s hard when you live this life of autism (or insert diagnosis here) day in and day out. It becomes your new normal. So if you are feeling guilty because you aren’t getting along with your child, or you are feeling more frustrated than normal and just don’t know what to do at this time, try looking at your child with a different lens. See their actions as symptoms instead of behaviour. Obviously, intervene when appropriate, especially when there is aggression.

Teaching our kids proper etiquette, manners, cleanliness, self-advocacy (in a strong, firm but kind way) are a few of the skills they will need to excel in this world they are forced to fit in to. We have to teach them because the world isn’t going to change for them. Just try and remember to meet them where they are at, try not to take it personally, and react in a frustrated way. But also, don’t be hard on yourself when you do react. You’re human. It’s okay.

This developmental age is something I keep coming back to because it helps me help her. Here are some links to past blog posts, when I’ve written something similar:

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/25/developmental-age-is-my-saving-grace/(opens in a new tab)

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/23/what-is-your-childs-developmental-age/(opens in a new tab)

I hope you have a fantastic day!!

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Mental Health

Mental health has been a hot topic these days with the pandemic and online learning and oh so much more time spent together! Isolation and some losing the social skills they once had. It’s a tough time. No question about it. Anxiety and depression are increasing, children who were receiving support in person are now doing it by phone or video (or not at all), some people have lost the social skills they have worked so hard to gain and some are having more positive experiences of feeling less overwhelmed by crowds and expectations. We all deal with stress in our own way and as many of you know, our kids can show their frustration, sadness, anger and fear in so many different ways! Here are some links with resources to help your child, teen, adult or…yourself.

https://www.headspace.com/articles/how-to-reduce-anxiety

Breathing Exercises – Once your child knows about “smelling the flower and blowing out the candle” breathing, you won’t need the videos and you can do this anywhere. The trick is to practice them when they aren’t at a heightened moment.

GoNoodle Guided Relaxation for Kids! GoNoodle has some great relaxation and movement exercises for kids. Check this one out below!

Melt your anger, frustration or fears away!

The link below has information and strategies on several mental health topics. There are worksheets provided in a Module format. Go to Resources and Looking After Yourself.

https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/Looking-After-Yourself

BounceBack – Online or Coaching

The North Simcoe Family Health Team Counselling

Autism Ontario Adult Mental Health

https://www.autismontario.com/programs-services/adults/mental-health-matters

These are just a few of the resources out there. And as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! You can find us on Facebook at Well Balanced Life or email us at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com!

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Transition to Adulthood

We had a meeting with a couple of people at Gracie’s school a few months ago regarding the transition to adulthood. CLH, formerly known as Community Living Huronia, was present to go over the Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Basically we were discussing what we thought life would look like for Grace. Would she live on her own? How much support will she need? Will she qualify for support through DSO? What are her future goals? This was an emotional day. We used to think Gracie would need constant support. But today, we feel she could live on her own with weekly support, help with paying bills, budgeting, making sure the house is clean, etc.

Gracie has two siblings, both who are off to travel and begin post-secondary education. Gracie wants this opportunity for herself SO bad! And I don’t blame her! She has worked super hard all these years to get to where she is today! Her goal was to go to college and that has now become a reality. She will apply to the Community Integration Co-op Experience (CICE) program at Georgian College when the time is right. I contacted the school to see if residence would be an option for her (she really wanted to do this) as she would definitely need a bit more support, especially with someone looking out for her, and finding a roommate that she could be herself with. Even though they have a program that suits her needs, they unfortunately don’t have any type of support for residence to get the full college experience! So today, we are creating her own apartment in the basement of our house. A place where she can practice caring for her own space, budgeting, meal planning, cooking and entertaining. With the other two moving out and their understanding of Gracie’s desire to have the same experiences, Emma gave her room to Gracie so she can have access to the whole basement. We’ll share the before and after photos and take you with us on our journey to adulthood!

Our privilege to do this doesn’t go unnoticed. I know not everyone has the space, time, money, partner or ability to do the work that needs to be done. There are some funding options to do this with Passport/DSO and ODSP which I I’ll see if Aaron can talk about later on. But the cleaning, meal planning, budgeting etc. are all things that can be done within the home and I hope we can help inspire you in some way to help your teens/adult children with a bit more independence. I’m sure we’ll be making cleaning checklists and recipes and/or meal planning sheets etc. If you see something that may be of use to you but you need it in visual format not just text, let me know and we’ll see if we can create something that best suits you and your child.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m even writing about adulthood! I know many of you have young children and I’ll be sure to still share those experiences as well. But again, feel free to reach out if you need some support!

Before

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Constant Change & Uncertainty!

Wowzers! This back and forth lockdown is challenging! My girl remembers the dates for EVERYTHING! She can even tell you what day of the week it was, let’s say, on April 4, 2015! As long as she has some memory of the activity we did on a specific day, she remembers the exact date. And quite often, she expects to do the same thing on that day each year. She’s makes “anniversaries” out of everything. So when Lecce says the schools will reopen after their April spring break, she knew it was a crock! She kept anticipating that the school would be closed because it was closed last March break. If something happened once, she believes it will happen again. As much as I’ve tried to teach her over the years that this is not the case (so she doesn’t need to stress about bad experiences happening again), this Covid year has totally made a liar out of me! For a girl who HATES change and needs warning, especially before totally turning her world upside down, I have to say, she’s handled it better than I expected. But, poor thing was eating an ice cream cone the other day, started laughing about something and broke in to tears! It had finally caught up to her. She had no idea why she was crying…but I sure did. This third wave has us all exhausted and frustrated. She doesn’t want to do online learning. She hasn’t been able to spend time in person with her friends. She is still waiting to see if she will get to go to camp this year. (She doesn’t believe it will happen because of last year’s cancellation). Even though Covid hasn’t changed her life too much (compared to others who work or go out all the time) to her, this is big. Just being told she can’t go anywhere, even though she rarely does, doesn’t sit well with her. Before it was on her terms. Now it’s not.

I wish I knew what the answer was. I wish I knew what the outcome will be so I could give her warning. But I don’t. So today, I think we will go over several possible scenarios and come up with a plan for each one. A list of fun things we can do, know matter what the outcome. It’s the best way I know how to prepare her. I’ll post our list on another blog post once we get it done to share with you. At least this way, she can be prepared as best as possible. If you have any ideas on how you’re handling the lockdown and the unknowns, please share in the comments! It would be great to hear from you!

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Don’t Forget to Listen

I had a conversation with a parent the other day regarding some struggles they were having with their child. The first advice I give to parents, caregivers and educators is to ask their child/student. Talk to them. Ask them what they are struggling with and what they feel they are doing well at. What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them happy and what upsets or angers them? Especially as a teen, it is good to let them know that you see they are struggling and you support them no matter what. The question, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me? I’m here,” can go a very long way sometimes. Instead of us telling them what they should be doing (don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m telling Gracie all the time how to do things), we can ask them what they feel they need right now. In this very moment. Just letting them know that you are there for them, and allowing them to make some of their own decisions (as long as they are safe) empowers them to make the right choice and you just might be surprised! All of those things you’ve been harping on your kids for, might just sink in. We tend to forget sometimes that our kids, no matter what age, can be very insightful to what they need. Obviously this is more difficult for some. Some of your kids may be non-verbal, or give you one word answers or a grunt. They may say things are fine when they aren’t. But just letting them know you are there for them, can open up the doors to communication. If you child is non-verbal but can point to yes and no or nod their head, get creative and come up with some things you think might be triggering them. Look at what they are playing with or what they are watching. Sometimes if your child is watching the same episode over and over, it might be on topic with what they are going through. Sometimes the answer is right there in front of us but we are too busy to really see it. And don’t feel bad about that! Just remember, the answer could be the knowledge your child/student already has. They are pretty amazing.

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Developmental Age Is My Saving Grace

Patience. We either wake up with it or we don’t. Some say we choose it or we don’t. I like to think I’m patient, but I know I run out of it sometimes. I’m only human. As parents we have a lot going on in our lives. Regardless of whether we work full time, are a single parent or if we are a stay-at-home mom or dad. We all have our own busy lives.

The last post I wrote was on our child’s developmental age vs. their birth age. That post had more to do with how to teach and treat our children. One thing I didn’t add but wanted to share was how seeing your child’s developmental age can help us as parents, caregivers and teachers to have more patience.

Gracie will tell me she loves me a hundred times in a day. Seriously, I use a counter to track how often sometimes! It feels like a million times! She wants to hug me just as often. She wants me home. She follows me around. She is learning but still interrupts conversations to say what she wants to say. She gets excited over the smallest things. Christmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny and all other magical beings are the most exciting times in her world. She loves candy and anything sweet and always wants the first and biggest piece of cake. She wants to cuddle (and would get on my lap if I let her). She watches Treehouse TV and cartoons galore. She is completely innocent when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol. She is emotional at times. Up until recently, she had meltdowns like a toddler. Imagine that in an adult body.

On the flip side, she listens to rap music. Has her sister do her makeup some days. Is able to have very mature conversations at times. She is very tall and grown up physically. She says swear words (limited to her bedroom only). She deals with all the same hormonal changes girls her age go through. She likes some name brand clothing and wants to fit in with others (although she seems to have gotten past that and is happy in her own skin). But, she posts selfies, some that include that duck face pose and likes the comments she receives! She has a boyfriend and best friend. She wants to be like every other teenager in the world.

Now here is what I mean by “her developmental age is my saving grace”. When I look at Gracie as her young 4-8 yr. old self, when I see the child inside her, I have much more patience when dealing with certain things. When I see her developmental age instead of her birth number or size of her body, her symptoms make complete sense to me. When I don’t realize that, it makes it much more difficult for me to understand and be patient with what she is doing. So give it a try. The next time you are starting to lose patience with your child or student, try seeing them at their developmental age and see if it makes a difference to you. How would you react to a 3 yr. old vs a 13 yr. old?

As I just explained to Gracie, she is a teenager but still has that “small kid inside her”. One that she is so blessed to have! How many of us have grown up wishing as a child to be an adult? We couldn’t wait to grow up and our parents would tell us not to rush it. She has the luxury of growing up, but still has the innocence, excitement and magic of a child we all wish we still had. That is something she is so fortunate to have! And we as her family and friends are so fortunate that we get to see life through her eyes. Her excitement, energy and belief of magic is contagious. Holidays will always be exciting because she will always hear that bell ring, because she will always believe.

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Don’t Think Your Child Will Be Able to Camp? – Part 2

Part 2 is on practicing the skills needed to camp, especially for those families who are pretty certain this will never happen. That may be true. But I urge you to read on if there is even a tiny thought that your child might enjoy camping if they could just handle some of the challenges they may face. Obviously I don’t want you to traumatize your child. Go at their pace and read their body language and listen to their words or gestures. Camping isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. You just don’t want them to miss out on it if they too want to join the family but just don’t know how.

First off, you know your child best and if you are 100% sure that they will NOT handle the sensory experiences or sleeping in a tent or trailer (or anywhere else other than their own bed), don’t rush it. But why not give it a shot? It will just take some time and practice. Think about each activity you might do when camping and practice each one, little baby steps at a time if you must. You can start with having a campfire in the backyard roasting s’mores one night. Then on another day take a few minutes to go to the beach. Some of you might be thinking “Are you kidding me?! My kid won’t let any sand touch him!” or “My child hates the smell of a campfire!” There are many many things that deter some of our children from the joys of camping but it might not be impossible to get to the point where your child can join in on the fun.

I’ll jot down below some possible concerns with some strategies but if your child struggles with something I haven’t mentioned, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com and I’ll see if we can help you out. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so just take a look at the bold sentences and choose to read what applies to you.

My child won’t sleep in a tent – if your child is too afraid to even go inside a tent, let alone sleep in one, put the tent up outside and leave it open with some pillows, sleeping bags and some of your child’s favourite stuffies, activities and food in it. I’m sure they will take a peek inside no matter how frightened they are and may develop the courage to go inside. If your child won’t go outside because the tent is there, try putting up a small tent inside your house. Or, build an indoor tent with sheets, play and sleep in it together. Keep the tent up as this may take several days/weeks until your child feels comfortable with it. If the child’s first step is playing inside the tent, when you feel your child is ready, try pretending to sleep in it during the day. Instead of playing house, play camping. Then extend that to sleeping in it at night. If your child doesn’t make it through the whole night, that’s ok. Keep trying and hopefully your child will stay longer and longer until they finally do it for an entire night – I would reward my child the next morning with going out for breakfast to their favourite restaurant, take-out or favourite dish made by mom or dad!

My child HATES the smell of campfire – I’m not a big fan of this either so I make sure I wear my least favourite clothes to a campfire. Clothes I won’t mind getting smelly or burnt by the small ashes that sometimes land on me. Help your child pick out some “campfire clothing”. Again, I would start small. Have a very small campfire outside. (If that’s still too much, I would make a “campfire” out of yellow and orange tissue paper on logs and pretend to roast marshmallows). You don’t need to sit around it just yet, but have it burning so your child can get used to the smell. If your child won’t even come outside because of the campfire, I would place a sweater near the campfire and bring it in the house and drape it over a chair in an area that your child is frequently in. It won’t be as strong as the campfire but it might be faint enough where he/she can handle it and slowly get used to it. If you need to hold the sweater over the campfire for 5 seconds the first round, then 30 seconds, then 1 minute etc. to make the scent slightly stronger each time to gradually increase their tolerance to it, then that is what we do. Eventually, the goal is to get your child outside around a campfire.

Would your child be willing to wear a mask to the campfire to block out some of the smell? With Covid, there are many places and people making masks. You can find one with their favourite character or even a pattern with campfires on it that is meant to wear only at the campfire. Add some essential oil under their nose to help drown out the campfire scent. Lastly, grab a plastic bag that is labelled (campfire only). Your child can then change out of their campfire clothes which will go directly into the campfire bag and sealed tight until it is washed. They can have a shower or bath if needed to get the smell out of their hair. There are many ways to gradually increase your child’s tolerance level to just about anything, we just need to be creative.

My child only eats certain foods – This is where you will have to do a lot of planning ahead. You may need to spend a weekend baking your child’s favourite breakfast muffins, waffles or pancakes that you can cook ahead and just drop in the toaster when camping. Cook up that favourite noodle dish or stockpile their favourite cereal. I highly recommend investing in a good plug-in cooler. The ones that can also be plugged into your car. This will allow you to bring milk, eggs and meat without worrying about keeping ice in it or the food getting soggy as the ice melts. That is a nightmare! Precook, pre bake, preplan! It can be done.

You can also make the campfire more exciting with s’mores and wieners and these fun and easy foil packet meals from Little Family Adventure Blog. There are tasty treats like eclairs, popcorn and cone s’more packets and meals for the child who prefers to eat like a king or queen. Something for the picky eater and something for your foodie!

My child can’t handle loud noises & fireworks – we never leave home without our noise reducing “protection” ear muffs. They are the ones people wear in construction or to concerts where the noise is so loud it can do damage to the ears. You never know when loud noises will appear! You can pretty much guarantee there will be fireworks on long holiday weekends, but honestly, I’ve been hearing fireworks almost nightly this summer and July has just begun! Bring the headphones with you everywhere so you will be quick to place them on their sensitive ears! If you’ve never tried them before, buy them ahead of time so your child can try them out at home and get used to wearing them. If they don’t like the feel of them, you can try different brands out, or desensitize your child to it by trying them on for 5 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 10 and so on. They were a lifesaver for us when we went to see the fireworks or concerts or amusement parks. You can also wear the small ear plugs that squish into your ears if that helps. Another option is to go to a campsite during the week when there are less crowds. Many provincial parks and private parks have certain areas of the park that have reduced hours where noise is permitted. Just do your research. Even calling ahead to the campground and explaining your story a bit so they can direct you to the most quiet and most secluded area for you and your family. Especially if you don’t want to be near the water as that might be too hard to keep your child away and too dangerous.

Not having a routine will be too hard for my child – No matter where we go, I would make a visual schedule for Gracie. Our weekend or weekly camping trips would be fully scheduled. We would keep her routine as much the same as possible, such as meal times and quiet time. But I would research the area we were going to and plan each day out accordingly. Keep in mind the weather when you are scheduling something. If the day needs to be sunny to experience an activity, you may have to include IF IT IS SUNNY on the schedule and what you will do instead IF IT RAINS. Always have a back up plan. Check out this link from The Inspired Treehouse on how to make a visual schedule.

My child wakes in the night. How do I keep her safe? – Tie some bells to the zipper of the tent so you know you will hear them if your child tries to leave. You can even get zip ties or twist ties and zip tie yourselves in there but have scissors easily accessible only to you (most tents have little hanging pockets) so you can quickly cut it off if you need to. ** This is not meant to “lock” your kids in a tent while you are sleeping in another one! I just mean that if you are so worried that you might not wake up if your child tries to leave, even if they have to climb over you to get there, that you could potentially use a zip tie or twist tie on the zipper and a tie back loop if needed to make it more difficult for your child to open it and leave. **

If you have more than one tent, make sure an adult is with the child who wakes in one tent and another adult (even a friend or family member if you are a single parent) sleeps in the other tent with the other children. If your child normally wakes in the night but you know he/she is safe at home and you are still able to sleep at home while they are awake, this obviously won’t be the case when camping. So keep your camping trip short. Even if the first time is just one night. Although two might be better because it might take your child a full day and night to understand what this camping thing is all about. Call the campground ahead to make sure you are not located near the water or pool. Better yet, borrow or rent a trailer so you can lock the door! You might want to test the waters before buying your own. **If you don’t think this will be safe, don’t go camping! Safety comes first!**

My child doesn’t like public washrooms – This is something that is pretty common. Think about all of the sensory experiences in a public washroom. Loud flushing. Large line ups and crowds. Extremely loud hand dryers. Crying babies. Awful smells. Using a public washroom will be a skill in itself that many of our kiddos will have to learn. Again, start with baby steps. Go to a public washroom where there is just a one room washroom to start. Most areas have a “handicap washroom” or family washroom where there is a one room option. Start there. Marinas have single washrooms with showers etc. in them. I’m sure if you asked to borrow one on a regular basis to teach your child the skill of using a public washroom, including the shower since that is what you will find at campgrounds, most would be open to the idea.

Here is an explanation about what I mean when I say break EACH activity down into small steps:

Take the washroom for example. There are several challenges just to using a public washroom. One out of many sensory experiences in the washroom is loud flushing noises. Start there. If your child won’t even flush the toilet at home because the noise is so loud, try using ear plugs or noise reduction earmuffs. If that still doesn’t work, have your child stand outside the door while you flush the toilet for them. Explain that you are going to be helping them get used to noise. They can cover their ears while standing outside the door or even down the hall. Then work your way closer to the washroom. And even closer until you are standing right in front of the toilet. A further step would be to record the toilet flushing so your child can listen to it at a quiet volume and you keep increasing the volume as they can handle it, until they can flush the toilet themselves. This is a great idea for the loud hand dryers as you have no control over who will start it and when. Using a recording at home in their safe space is a good place to start. Practice this daily. Some children are scared of the water twirling and going down the bowl. A simple fix for that is to close the lid before flushing.

Now look at each thing your child despises about the public washroom and break each one down like I did with the toilet flushing. This post is getting too long to do each one, but I think you get the idea. Work on each skill one at a time until they’ve mastered all of them. Then you can attempt a public washroom with many stalls once you think they are ready.

Obviously, there is a lot of prep work to be done. Lots of skills to teach. It might be a lot of work and this isn’t going to be a relaxing holiday for you as the parents/caregivers. It will be exhausting and you will probably need a mini vacay after this family vacation. But if you go into it with no expectations and just the hope that you will have even the smallest success, it will be priceless. Just remember that this camping trip is for your child/children to learn and grow and experience. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Patience. Time. Baby steps. Practice. That’s all you need. And remember, all of the skills mentioned above won’t just be for camping. They can transfer these skills to other areas in their life. Yes, you might have to practice these skills in other areas as some of our kids have a hard time transferring a skill they’ve learned to somewhere else, but you’ve got the hardest part down!

Good luck! I wish you and your family a safe and memorable summer! xo

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