ROAD TRIP! 3 Tips for ND Families on the Road
Vacations can be a source of delightful new experience, and cherished lifelong memories for many families. However, when the family is neurodivergent, including people who might be autistic, ADHDers, or have other unique brains or thinking styles, it’s important to choose your vacation activities carefully. You don’t want sensory overload to create overwhelming stress, withdrawal, or irritation. On the other hand, sensory deprivation, in the form of sitting in a car for hours, creates its own challenges. So, as a parent, how do you see that everybody’s happy and head off meltdowns before they happen?
Here are three tips to keep the little ones happy on long car trips: sacktivities, snacktivities, and electrivities. I hope these help make your next vacation one you’ll be happy to remember.
- If you’re going on a long car trip, be prepared with plenty of things for your little ones to do to keep them occupied and happy when they’re buckled into the back seat. Rather than putting all of your activities into one bag, divide them up into separate small bags or sacks – Sacktivities. Surprise them with a new one every hour or half-hour that they’re in the car, depending on how long they are able to sustain their attention on a single toy or activity. Don’t include small parts unless they are attached to the main toy so that you won’t need to pull over and help find the piece that fell on the floor. Finding new little toys and fun things, such as from a dollar store or teacher supply store, will capture their interest, but familiar favorites also have their place.
- Art Sacktivity could include a small white board with a wipe-off marker that is attached to the board by a cord or yarn. Rather than going through reams of paper and dropping crayons on the floor to melt later, they can simply wipe off the board and create a new masterpiece. If they want to save their work, offer to take a photo of it on your phone at the next rest stop. Other examples of Art Sacktivities could be magnetized drawing sets such as a Magna Doodle™ or Etch-a-Sketch™. If your child loves to squeeze Play-Doh™ as a sensory activity, but you don’t want bits of the dough mashed into your car’s upholstery, consider double-sealing some inside 2 plastic bags with extra tape. This is more effective with a child who loves to squeeze the dough but not to create sculptures with it. An older child may see the plastic bags as a challenge and you’ll find it later in your car’s carpet. To find out if this would work with your little one, introduce it before your trip at other times that they need to sit quietly, such as in a waiting room. If you’re sitting next to them instead of driving, you can intercede if they find a way to open the sealed bags and take out the Play-Doh™.
- Music Sacktivity could include a small music player with a headset, loaded with their favorite tunes, for your kids who are musically inclined. If the adults can tolerate auditory distractions or use safe, noise-canceling headphones, then you might consider including small musical instruments, such as a small harmonica, recorder, or ocarina. Learning to play a new instrument can be a fascinating way to pass time when a child has music as their special passion, but only use this if the others in the car can tolerate it.
- Book Sacktivity could include board books, pop up books, audio books, or books on their favorite topics. A new book about a long-time passion can hold a child’s interest for some time.
- Kids will get hungry between rest stops, so include some bags of snacks that you know they will enjoy. It might be a treat they seldom get to indulge in, or something new, or something that is branded with a favorite character. You’ll know how much sugar they can handle and choose their snacks accordingly. After they eat the snack, the sack can become their personal trash bag so the wrappers don’t end up on the floor and under the seats. Pack separate small bags to pass to the back seat periodically rather than handing them all over at once. Consider taping the sack closed so that what’s inside will be a surprise. Any time you can find a food that they have to do something with, such as lunchpacks with pretzels or cracker sticks they can dip into cheese dip or nut butter, congratulations! You’ve just put the activity into the snacktivity!
- We all know how much kids (and adults) love our movies, TV shows, and video games. A long road trip might be the time to allow your kids to have more screen time than they might usually have during the school year. It’s a parental decision to make, and it might be worth the extra time if it increases your kids’ tolerance of a long road trip.
With a little planning and preparation, your next family road trip could be the best one yet!