Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Over The River and Through the Woods - Planning WAY Ahead of Time Pays Off!

I wrote this several years ago for a site that closed. Resharing here on my own blog.

The challenges of autism and a list of co-occurring conditions have limited opportunities for our daughter. She is a young teenager and had never spent the night at her grandparents’ house without Mom or Dad. and only one night away from both Mom and Dad. This spring, I began to plan for a late June trip to stay with her grandparents.

My husband and I would be dividing and conquering in two directions with siblings in different activities on the same weekend. Either sibling event would be too much, too long, too hot, too loud for a kid with autism. There was no way to do just part of either of those events. One of us would have to take her along for the entire event or we needed to find an alternative for her. I could bring someone here to stay with her at the house or I could try to find someone for my girl to stay with. I called on my parents and my sister (they live in the same town) to ask if they thought they could handle our kid with an autism spectrum disorder long enough for me to drive to another state to pick up a sibling from camp and attend two days of end-of-camp performances.

My parents and my sister said they were up for the challenge. My girl was ready. She informed me that she is old enough to stay at Nana and Poppa’s house without me there. She was so excited!

I had a couple of months to prepare my girl. She has never been away from us for three days. She has never packed her own suitcase or planned what she might need while away from us. I decided to use the experience as a learning opportunity. This is unschooling at its finest.

I broke the planning down into parts for her.
1. Clothing. Look at the calendar and visually count the number of days. When we began planning, we thought she would be gone Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She would need clothing for three days and nights. I started the thinking aloud process for her and allowed her time to finish for me. Three shirts. Three bottoms (pants, shorts, skirts). Three sets of underclothes. Pajamas. Socks. Sandals. (She would wear sneakers.) We talked about the weather and how hot temperatures would be during her visit.

2. Food. She has a long list of food allergies. We take lots of food for her when we travel. Hot dogs, GFCF buns. Pizza crusts, spaghetti sauce, pepperoni. Lunch meat and sandwich bread. Cookies. Chips. Again, I got her started and let her come up with ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

3. Extras. Extras are less straightforward and require more hindsight and forethought, and I wanted to scaffold the thinking process for her. A hat and sunglasses were important to her. A bathing suit. A dress. One or two extra sets of clothing. Sanitary napkins and extra underwear. Is there a stuffed animal she likes to sleep with that she would like to take along?

4. Games and activities. My father has a degenerative muscle disease and my mother is his only caretaker. They don’t get out much; getting out requires a lot of work and sometimes a lot of equipment. My girl would have to pack items to keep her busy for three-and-a-half days and she would need some activities to share with her little cousins. I gave her lots of ideas beyond the items she chose. Some ideas she adopted; some, she rejected. I allowed her to decide what to take.

5. Behavior. This was (and still is) my most challenging part. The biggie. My daughter’s ability to cope under stress and to suppress impulse control while using self-control is still quite young. I previewed some manners for my girl. I previewed some situations that could arise that could upset her. We talked about how she would handle this situation or that one.

I told her that when I was her age, I would make a check-list of what I wanted to pack. I would make a check-list of what I needed to buy for my trip. And the next thing I knew, she had a check-list on the front of the refrigerator. The list became a framework for packing. We mentally added to it as we thought of items to add. In hindsight, having a couple of months to help her process and plan was a HUGE benefit to both the learning process and to her active participation in the planning, especially as we talked about food/snacks and games/activities to pack. I was able to spotlight activities and ask her about special foods in the next few weeks and she was an active participant in the planning. It was the first time she has been actively involved in planning for a trip, and I gave her opportunities to be active in all parts of it, not just packing a suitcase. She packed her own suitcase. She was really excited about having her own suitcase, too. She got the right number of everything she needed and made some good choices and some not-so-good choices. I went through her suitcase with her and helped her make what I thought were some better selections and we talked about why one outfit was better than another. (I’d rather her take newer clothes and clothes without stains. I want her to look nice.) We went grocery shopping for snacks and she helped choose what we would take. And she packed her activity bag almost without help. I did buy a huge package of colored pencils and prepare some coloring activities that she could share with her little cousins, but she did pack almost all of the activity bag by herself. She included DVDs that she wanted to share with her little cousins, too.

The weekend was a success. I was too busy traveling and attending events to worry about her. When I called Mom and Dad’s at night to check in with her, she didn’t want to get on the phone and she told me she wasn’t ready to come home yet. She did grow tired of too many little cousins too much too long, but for the most part, handled that well. (We do have some things to work on.)She was ready to return home with me when I arrived to get her, Sunday. My little girl grew up a lot in the process of planning and staying at Nana and Poppa’s several nights without me. She was so very proud that she stayed without me. The bonus: I got to see her sibling in two very special Friday night performances and a Saturday afternoon performance.

 If you are looking for opportunities to grow some thinking skills, responsibility and active participation, consider the event of packing for a trip with your child. Start really early to allow for ample processing time. (We had almost eight weeks to plan.) Scaffold the thinking experience but don’t do all the thinking for the child. Step back. Stepping back allows your child an opportunity to step up. Offer choices; allow the child to make as many decisions as possible. Double check what they’ve chosen. You may recognize new learning opportunities. Packing for a trip can be a wonderful learning experience – for both parent and child.

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