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Monday, September 2, 2013

Re-entry: life after vacation

Life after vacation can be rough.

No sooner had you gotten used to your surroundings away from home and begun to relax when you need to gear up for your trip back home. It may take a while to re-adjust and get up to speed with your work and home life.
If you have a child with special needs who went on vacation with you, adjusting back to life after vacation can be especially challenging. In my post last week, I talked about how to go on vacation with your special needs child…successfully. But now I want to focus on what I call “re-entry” – coming home and getting back to normal. Often re-entry is much harder that you can imagine.

So many kids struggle with changes to routine. But a child with challenges may have an even deeper struggle with change of any kind. “Sameness” seems to be the name of the game. A child with special needs often reacts negatively to tiny changes in his life. Small things (such as bed sheets, pajamas, breakfast cereal) need to be kept the same or a meltdown will ensue. If you went through the pains of helping your child adjust to going away, and after a period of adjustment your child settled in and had a good time, you may be in for a tough time when you arrive back home as you try to change back to his new “old” routine. For many special needs children, transitions are like going into a black hole –they are scary and cause great anxiety.
How can your help your child adjust to going home?

It is important to prepare your little one for the transition home. A photo of your home, his room and toys should be in his communication book. Point to it and explain to him you will be going home. If you know you are taking a plane or a long car ride to get home, show him the picture of a plane or car so that he knows what will be happening next. But, be careful not to tell him too early, as children don’t have a clear sense of time and would expect that shortly after you point to the pictures in his book, he will then be back home.
Once you arrive home, positive reinforcement can work wonders. Rewarding all the things he is doing “right” can go a long way in keeping the peace. If you have a sticker chart or reward system in place, keep it going throughout the transition home. Remember, re-entry is really hard for your child. He is not trying to annoy you or be difficult. It’s just the way he’s wired…so try to be patient.
As you slide back into your routine, make a book of your vacation memories. You can print out the photos of your trip and make a book so that your little one can “read” it from time to time and remember that he was there. This will help for the next time you wish to travel to a place as he will remember that he had fun on a previous trip. The more you go away (even on short day trips), the more memory books you can create. These books will be a testament that your little one is making progress. It will help him become confident in his ability to accept change and maybe even learn to like it.

Should you go away again?
It is hard to break routine and inject new people, places, foods, smells, beds and countless other new senses into the life of your special needs child. But, the more times your child is successful at transitioning through change, the more successful he is going to become at it. That is not to say it is easy, but over time it usually becomes less hard. As your child becomes more verbal, he can express to you what will help him be successful. Sometimes simple things such as allowing an extra few minutes to leave the house so that he can say “good bye” to each of his stuffed animals before he leaves may allow you to get out of the house without a meltdown. It is different for every child. Learn what works for your child and try to be patient.

Hopefully, in time, your get-aways will become a welcome change…as they should be.
Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started on January 16, 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Click on “Help for your child” and scroll down to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

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