Often taking children out of their home and familiar routines can often be challenging. When you plan your summer vacation, think about your child’s sensory needs and how they respond to different environments. Every child’s needs are different and we often tell parents they need to be detectives to discover what works best for their child.
The sensory seeker: Chances are this child will love vacation, especially if their are lots of opportunities for physical activity. We see many children who thrive at the beach. Walking/running on the beach, digging in the sand, playing in the water, being knocked over by waves, etc. often provides an intensive sensory diet that is hard to match back at home. These same children also often love amusement parks, especially if they seek vestibular input: the various rides, including roller coasters, again provide intensive sensory input opportunities.
The challenge is to provide transition activities at the end of the day to help your child make a smooth transition from a stimulating environment back to the hotel, cottage or grandma’s house. Move to activities that are somewhat less stimulating at the end of the day; building a sand castle, riding a train or other less stimulating ride. Have your child wear a backpack with 5 – 10% of his or her body weight on the walk back to the car. Provide a snack at the car including something crunchy or chewy and a drink with a straw. If your child is doing a Theraputic Listening program, this may be a good time to use it. Ask your therapist for a suggestion about a good CD for this transition. Provide a fidget (e.g. squeeze ball, theraputty, etc.) for the ride.
The more challenging situations for the Sensory Seeker are when they need to be still: airplane rides, long car rides, etc. Be sure to ‘pre-load’ your child’s nervous system by engaging them in physical activity before asking them to sit still. If traveling by car, stop every 1-2 hours at a roadside park for a movement break. Have a ball, frisbee, theraband, etc. ready to facilitate active play. When they need to sit, provide activities for their hands (think heavy work: play dough/clay, pop beads, hole puncher) and something for their mouths (gum, star bursts, fruit leather, bagels, jerky, water bottle with straw).
And even though children who are Sensory Seekers tend to like a lot of activity, all children can become overloaded. Don’t pack every day with activities, especially if you are seeing lots of relatives or are spending the week at Walt Disney (or similar). Build in some times that are less stimulating, allowing your child time to regroup.