At Experia USA, we understand that organizing and going on vacations for special needs families can be a stressful time. A change in routine can be scary for many children who suffer from autism and other sensory diagnoses. Though nothing can quite compare to permanent sensory rooms filled with bubble tubes, sound system and fiber optics dazzled with the perfect lighting, sometimes life calls for a road trip and you may need to take your sensory room on the go!
This blog is for those families searching for the perfect sensory backpack to create and take on vacation, and we'll also suggest some top tips for travelling with a special needs child and activities to do at home for quieter days.
What Should be Included in a Sensory Backpack on Vacation?
• A cozy item
Your child's sensory backpack should contain something comforting. It may be a favorite pillow, a weighted blanket, a cushion, a stuffed animal, or something else they love. Adding a couple of pounds to your child's favorite pillow or stuffed friend can act as a cushion and a lap pad combined. The weight applies a deep pressure to the lap and upper thighs in order to calm your child while seated. Perfect for summer vacation and long car journeys!
Some special needs children react well to specialized lighting that helps them feel calm and soothed. You can add in some calming fiber optic strands, a portable bubble tube, or a small light up object to act as a visual tracker or distraction. Though light up and noisy toys can sometimes do more harm than good, there are some wonderful electronic devices that can engage and soothe the brain.
• Fidget Toy
You may find that your child needs to fidget during trips away, and you need to be prepared for this on long journeys and on vacation. Make sure your travel sensory backpack has a few fidget toys to keep their fingers and hands busy while on your trip. Fidgeting can help reduce anxiety and provide a great outlet for fine motor work. Something as simple and portable as a handheld puzzle can go a long way to soothe and occupy kids with ADHD.
Music is a must for any trip! Pack up your child's favorite sounds and grab a great set of noise cancelling earbuds to go along. A list of songs can go a long way in making your trip as successful and easy as possible, and music is extremely easy to take with you. Consider adding in some classical music or music that teaches for educational benefit. Books on tape are also excellent for learning, listening, and passing the time.
• Pop-up Tent
Pop-up tents allow you to create a sensory room away from home, or a new sensory space perhaps in the garden during summer vacation. A tent can provide your sensory seeker or sensory over-responder with a quiet place to calm, sleep, and relax. One of the great advantages of a pop-up tent is that they are easy to put up and take down – minimal effort required! Simply make sure that you get one that is easy to stuff into your bag for trips away, and do a trial run of opening and closing it before hitting the road.
• Mouth tools
Make sure your sensory sack has some oral motor tools, and also be sure that you've packed plenty of crunchy foods and snacks that require sucking and/or chewing. Keeping the mouth busy can do wonders for sensory processing disorder and make your travels much easier. Vibrating mouth tools or an electric toothbrush can help calm, organize, and reduce frustrations while on the road.
Preparing Your Child for a Trip
Creating a good sensory backpack is extremely beneficial, but as a parent/carer of a special needs child you need to prepare them for the vacation. Some top tips include:
• Create a calendar with your child to ensure that they know what is coming and are prepared for their change in routine and scenery, but make this interactive and fun at the same time.
• Show your child visual aids of the destination and journey to help them feel relaxed and more open to the prospect of change.
• Construct social stories with your child, which are situations they may find themselves in while on vacation. This can leave your child feeling much more prepared and excited for the vacation.
Visit our previous blog post for more top tips for traveling with autistic children.
At Home Activities
The summer doesn't just include trips away. There will be many days where you will need to entertain your child at home. This can be difficult if your child is full of energy and presents challenging behaviors. To help, look at this detailed parent guide on managing behavior in autism.
Keeping your kids entertained and engaged while also learning is important. We've got some top tips on home activities for autistic children, activities for kids with ADHD, and also for children with other special needs conditions:
• Sensory smell tours: take your child around your house to identify the different smells of food, soaps, pets, etc. You could even introduce some new smells, such as herbs.
• Try some active games like hopscotch, balloon volleyball, and dance competitions. These are a great way for your kids to keep engaged and have fun at the same time.
• Consider playing word building games that are educational and fun by writing letters on Lego-type bricks, cutting out letters from magazines, or using letter magnets.
• Try making your own sensory textured books with paper, foil, cloth, bubble wrap etc, or perhaps even a graffiti wall in your home!
• For older children, riddles can often be fun and make them think outside the box.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call us on 1-800-882-4045 and we'll be happy to help.