As some of you may know, we have a 15 year old son with Aspergers, and he has been such a joy to watch grow, and yet SUCH a challenge at times. Anyone with an Aspie knows that most people on the outside look at them and think that everything is fine, that we’re just making this up and our kiddo seems completely normal to them. It’s only those of us who share life with them day in and day out that really understand the struggles that can occur – for them AND for the whole family.
We definitely have had our parenting struggles with our other children (another story for another day), but our K (we will call him K for this blog) has called us to another level of patience completely. Normal everyday issues that crop up can be hard enough, but when you add long drives and vacation with less well known family members , that can be a recipe for breakdown (or even multiple breakdowns).
I went online to try to do some research into how to make this trip better for him, and what I found was helpful, but every kid is different, so I thought I’d share what worked for us.
- Let them bring anything along that helps them feel comfortable
Our son brought an old ragged stuffed animal that he keeps inside his pillow case always. He’s pretty good about keeping it hidden because he is 15 and doesn’t want to be teased by anyone, but I noticed that he would hold it every night instead of leaving it in his pillow. I think this was something that made him feel safe each night in a new place. Do they have a special pillow or shirt that they love and you can’t stand? Oh well, that item is coming with you (bring some Febreeze because they LOVE that item to death sometimes and car rides are very enclosed).
- Pack normal snacks and drinks that they are used to
Normally we would pack all kinds of “treats” that we don’t usually get to have in our normal everyday, you know what I mean, “vacation food”. But with Asperger kids you really want them to have as much normalcy as possible while they’re out of their safety zone, so we brought things that we were all used to and that seemed to also give some normalcy to our days.
- Give. Them. Space.
I wanted to talk to him the whole trip about the scenery and what would be happening and the people he would meet, but it was clear right off the bat that he needed to put on his headphones sometimes and just not interact – which was totally OK! I think that even beyond Aspergers, this is a pretty normal for most teens I think and we need to remember that space is good!
- Talk about the trip in detail BEFORE you leave
This is what helped him the most, we started talking about this trip for at least a month prior to actually leaving. When I say “talk about the trip”, I mean REALLY go into details. Ad nauseum. Wear yourself out with: where you will stop, who you will be seeing along the way, where you will eat. I even drew out a map of where we were headed and pin pointed the places we would probably stop for gas and where we were spending the night. Be as prepared as you can be and I promise your trip, and your teen, will be happier for it.
- Expect a few breakdowns
Let’s be honest, this is real life people. The trip will have surprises, no doubt. Attitudes will flare up (even for parents after 24 hours in the car EACH WAY) and patience will need to be delved out in HEAPS. Just roll with it. Honestly, if you just focus on your family and what is best for you guys and are flexible with issues, this is going to be a great trip. When breakdowns happen, just expect them and be ready. If your teen needs a break, take a break (yes, even if you just stopped an hour ago). The outcome of the trip is to have some great memories and spend time enjoying each other along the way.
Remember, just like life, this trip is about the journey, not just the destination. Pull back, regroup, talk with your family about what expectations you have and be realistic.
Then, when you’re on the trip, breath, sit back, and enjoy this moment in your lives.
What other tips do you have when traveling with teens? Any tips specifically for Aspergers kiddos? I’d love to hear your feedback, I’m always open to new ideas!