We have just arrived home from a successful week’s holiday, sticking to a very tried and tested formula; one we have learned after years and years of practice.
Routine and familiarity are words that every autism parent knows. When our boys were very young, we often visited the same destinations and before they were able to talk, they would recognise a stop on the journey and know where we were headed. They would be happy so we were happy but after a while, we knew we needed to stretch their comfort zones and become a bit more adventurous.
This didn’t mean travel like I once knew it; as a backpacker in my 20’s, I travelled the world deciding on a whim which country to visit next. Those days are gone, but even now I long for a little bit of adventure. So, slowly over the years with compromise and patience we have expanded the holidays we can now manage.
Years later, we still try to stick to some basic rules.
Firstly, that the journey is no longer than a 4 hr drive in total so it can be broken up with one stop. Today we stopped at a castle for a picnic and a walk, so much nicer than a service station but not always possible. Any longer than 2 hrs in a car and the in-car fighting becomes intolerable due to boredom.
Secondly, we only ever rent a holiday house. Never a holiday home swap, the thought of my boys combined with other people’s precious possessions would not make for a stress free holiday. I also try to pick a house literally in the middle of nowhere, this week we were in a holiday house on a farm surrounded by fields. After the sensory overload of visiting new places, returning each day to somewhere quiet and calm soothes us all.
No hotels, as we need to have the boys safely locked in at night and be able to hear them and know where they are. We do now go to a family activities resort hotel each year in Europe but we stay in the equivalent of a small flat on the site or adjoining bedrooms with the door left open in between.
This week I took a Harry Potter box set so we could watch all the films – we only got half way through, but we also take favourite films as that helps with routine. I have taken the boys own quilt covers too in the past, even if sheets are provided; and of course a car full of lego, train sets and whatever they were into at the time.
Holidays are about learning to cope with change and having new experiences but most importantly they are family time when we are all together and have time just to spend with the boys.
They are also about creating memories. Our boys’ recall can be phenomenal and they remember so many details of past holidays and places we visited. I get to take photos all week of all the boys together when they are relaxed. Some of these photos are among our most treasured and will go onto the individual photo calendars which I make each boy every Christmas.
I try to plan a visit every day;this week has been full of castles, canals, beaches and cities. The more we try to stretch their boundaries, the easier it becomes. I am still dreaming of the day we can take them to Europe and do some sight seeing but until they can all stop arguing and fighting with each other when we are out, we need to stick to quieter destinations.