Every year, we take a week-long trip somewhere at the end of August, during Quentin’s short time off from school. (He is in a 12-month program, which allows for only 3-4 weeks break during the summer.) Every year, for the past several years, we have rented a home somewhere during this break. Also every year, it seems to be excruciatingly hard to get through this vacation week with him; he seems to freak out at everything being out-of-routine, and sleep becomes even more erratic than usual. We try to grin and bear it, attempting to have “fun” with the whole family nonetheless. It’s not really enjoyable, even though I try so hard to make it seem that way.
That is, until this year.
This year, our vacation went SO well!
We spent our week this year in Ocean City, Maryland. I chose this spot based on a tip from another parent of a special needs child. I did not know much about it besides what I read on the internet, but it seemed like a great idea. The condo we rented was on the beach, but also had an outdoor kiddie pool and big pool, as well as an indoor pool at our disposal. Ocean City is a boardwalk town with lots of amusement park rides, family-style restaurants, and beach. What’s not to love?
On this trip, Quentin talked more than he ever has. He babbled constantly – sometimes it was nonsense and gibberish, sometimes it was scripting, and sometimes it made perfect sense. He gave us great eye contact and paid attention. He interacted well with his sister, sharing giggles on rides and at a playground. There were “off” moments for him too, of course, but I am happy to report that these were much less than usual.
I have done a lot of thinking about “what went right” on this vacation, as opposed to others. Here’s my list:
I always knew that we needed them, but for this trip I established a few more than just our typical bedtime routine. For us, going to the playground at our condo every morning was how we started the day. Then we would usually do something outside of the house (like amusement park rides, a boat tour, etc.), before returning for lunch and then the pool. The playground was something both kids really enjoyed, and it let the kids burn off some steam before heading out. It became a natural “routine” for us that worked.
2. Pool time
Quentin and Fiona have a lot of energy. They both really enjoy swimming in pools. Neither one of them is a strong swimmer yet, but they wore floatation belts I brought along. Quentin, in particular, loves the deep-pressure all-over-his-body feeling he gets from being in a pool. His biggest smiles and giggles came from pool time, and we allowed him 1-2 hours of intense swimming every day. (We also found out during this trip that he much prefers pools over the beach, which is understandable when you consider all the sensory elements at play at the beach.) The indoor pool at our condo allowed us to do this every day, rain or shine.
3. Digital play time/ Down time
While we did not want our kids to be on digital devices all the time, we recognized that every day we all needed a little break – usually in the afternoon or just before bed. This allowed us all to rest our bodies and relax in a comfortable way. The iPad remained Quentin’s screen of choice, even though there were several TV’s in our rental unit. This ‘down time’ also became a much-needed part of our daily routine to relax.
4. Flexibility in planning
We took chances with Quentin on this trip – perhaps more than we typically do. We knew he would love amusement park rides, for example… (as a sensory-seeker, nothing could be better for him!) but what we didn’t realize is that the boardwalk at Ocean City would be over-stimulating, causing him to run around in a crazy way, often running away from us and into dangerous situations. Within a few minutes, we realized we had to leave quickly. However, we were able to find some rides which were not directly on the boardwalk, which worked much better for him. He was able to point to the rides he wanted. He went he went on rides by himself or with Fiona. So much of our planning was trial-and-error, thoughout our trip. As parents, Mike and I had to learn how to quickly assess whether something was working or not.
(Sorry, no picture of this – for obvious reasons!) Quentin is a notoriously bad sleeper, and it only gets worse when we are in an unfamiliar place. The first night was rocky, but because we had routines in place (see #1 above) and lots of pool time (see #2 above), the kid was knocked out at the end of the day and ready to go with the flow of our bedtime routine. This was true for Fiona, as well. More sleep for everyone meant that even the grown-ups were in a better mood. We all slept well and smiled all day.
6. Ice cream
The day we got home, we had driven a long time in the car only to find that our cupboards were bare. I had forgotten that we had completely emptied out our food supplies before leaving. I was poking through the pantry, trying to figure something out for dinner, when Quentin approached with this request: “Daddy pizza.” Great idea, little man!
About half an hour later, we were all happily munching on slices that Mike had picked up from our local pizza shop. “Great idea for dinner, Quentin,” I told him. He beamed around the table with pride. Yup, this had been a great vacation.