Spring break is coming! For many of us, spring means enjoying the sun over our heads and the sand under our toes. Many sensitive children, however, find trips to the beach or other exotic locations unbearable. This month, we’re going to focus on some common tactile triggers you might encounter on vacation.
No matter what your child’s particular triggers are, remember that preparation is key. Have her help you problem solve, plan, and pack as much as possible. Try new clothing or toiletries at home and make sure she has a chance to give input on each item. Above all, be honest about what to expect in your new environment and give her as much control over her own comfort as possible.
Keep reading for some common tactile triggers and a few tips for tackling each. Also, be sure to check out our previous article for some more general tips on traveling with sensory needs.
#1 – Sunscreen, lotion, and other toiletries
- Make sure to test every new product at home before you leave.
- Pack enough for your entire trip–you might not be able to find certain items elsewhere.
- Experiment with different types of applications–sunscreen sticks, shampoo bars, etc.
- Minimize the need for sunscreen by using sun shirts, hats, and protective clothing.
#2 – Unfamiliar or uncomfortable bedding
- Bring pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, or stuffed animals from home.
- Make bedding smell and feel familiar by bringing your own laundry detergent.
- Bring a favorite blanket to act as a barrier/comfortabel layer under the sheets.
#3 – Sand and unusual textures or temperatures
- Experiment with different types of shoes–open vs. closed sandals, water shoes, etc.
- Minimize exposure by wearing pants or gloves while playing on the beach.
- Try playing on different parts of the beach–loose, dry sand vs. wet, packed sand.
- Bring ice packs, hand warmers, etc. to help regulate temperature.
#4 – Insect repellant and bug bites
- Minimize exposure by wearing long sleeves and pants when possible.
- Experiment with different types of applications–wipes, wristbands, clips, sprays, etc.
- Use bug zappers or burn citronella candles or sticks when outside.
- Experiment with alternative repellants, such as essential oils.
- Pack hydrocortisone cream or ointment to soothe bites and stings.
- Be aware of your location–bugs are more prevalent by the water or in wooded areas.
#5 – Being crowded or bumped in public places
- Call ahead and see if your destination has accommodations for sensory sensitivities.
- Practice waiting in line at the grocery store or other crowded location.
- Practice deep breathing and anti-anxiety techniques.
- Talk it out–remind your child that people who might bump into her are doing it accidentally and are not trying to be rude or hurtful.
Spring has sprung, and it’s time to break out the bikes! Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for many children, and it’s a skill they can take with them their entire lives.
While SPD and other sensory issues present some unique challenges, you can help your child feel safe and confident by breaking the process up into small, simple steps and allowing him to go at his own pace. Below is a method we’ve found successful with our own children–feel free to use it as a starting point and modify as needed.
Above all, stay positive and remember to celebrate the small victories. Good luck!
Becoming irritated or overwhelmed by physical sensations like the wind blowing in his face, uncomfortable safety gear, or the sight of objects whizzing by quickly
Let your child pick out his own helmet and pads and add extra cloth or padding if needed. Introduce new textures and sensations slowly.
Problems with balance, motion, or spatial orientation, such as feeling out of control, unsteady, or too far away from the ground
Consider getting a tricycle, scooter, or balance bike first. Practice balancing and moving with speed before making the leap to a regular bike.
Difficulties maintaining stamina, determining the order in which to make certain movements, or coordinating different muscle groups
Break new skills down into small, simple steps and use repetition to reinforce new concepts. Physically guide your child through the process.
Inability to properly gauge the distance between objects, the different shapes of street signs, or how much force is being used to pedal or turn
Practice telling the difference between the shapes of two signs, the distance between two toys, or whether he’s going fast or slow. Make it a game and have him try to “trick” you.
Meltdowns, anxiety, or refusal to practice caused by any of the above issues
Be supportive and patient. Make sure your child is regulated before you begin, and allow him to go at his own pace.
Learning to Ride
- Have your child sit on the bike and stand directly in front of him so he can see everything you’re doing and knows you’re in control. Slowly move the handlebars left to right, back and forth, so he can both see and feel the movement.
- Have him practice getting on and off the bike while you continue to hold it steady.
- Slightly tilt the bike in either direction, as if it’s going to fall, and have him practice “catching” himself by leaning and putting his foot down on the correct side.
- Continue to hold the handlebars and have him practice getting on and off as you tilt. Make sure to practice on both sides until he’s comfortable.
- Stand behind the bike and repeat step #3 using the balance bar. When he’s comfortable with his footing, start tipping the bike farther–just enough so that he must catch himself.
- Use the balance bar to push the bike slowly forward. Have him practice steering while you keep the bike upright and steady. Move on to pedaling and braking when he’s mastered steering.
- Continue to hold on, but encourage him to go faster. Make a game of seeing if he can “make Mommy/Daddy run.” Let him be completely in control of speed and stopping.
- Tell him you can let go whenever he’s ready–and when he tells you to let go, do it! Practice pedaling and stopping over and over until he doesn’t fall and can confidently control the bike on his own.
- Start working on turns. Place cones or toys in a parking lot or other open space and have him weave around and through them. Focus on slowing down and making wide swings around objects, and move the objects closer together as he gets comfortable.
- Being on a bike automatically forces children to maintain a safe social distance from one another, but it lets them be just close enough to talk as they ride.
- Less traffic and more open parking lots allow new or less confident riders the privacy to practice and make mistakes and without feeling watched.
- Social inclusion and participation – Riding with their peers allows children to make social connections and form lasting friendships.
- Mental health – Mastering a new skill can dramatically improve your child’s confidence, concentration, and independence.
- Physical health – Bikes are a great way to get fresh air, build stamina, and improve balance and muscular coordination.
- Make sure your child’s feet can reach the ground while he’s sitting on the bike and that he can operate the brakes on his own. Avoid flip-flops and loose, baggy clothing.
- Find a good place to practice. Empty parking lots are great because they’re generally flat and have plenty of room to practice braking, coasting, and making wide turns.
- Make sure your child is regulated before you leave the house. If he’s hungry, overtired, moody, or irritated by his helmet or clothing, it’s just not the right day for a lesson.
- Make sure you are regulated and have the time to totally focus on your child.
- Keep your expectations in check. Plan to focus on a single task or lesson per day.
Have another suggestion? Let us know in the comments!
The holidays are just barely over, but Spring Break is already coming up fast! Whether you’re planning on relaxing at home or flying off to Disney World, accounting for your child’s sensory sensitivities can feel overwhelming–but, with a little extra thought and careful planning, it can be done!
See below for a few of our favorite tips on tackling spring break and traveling with sensory needs.
Tips for Traveling with Sensory Needs
- Don’t stop at online research. Call up the resort, park, or club and talk about your child’s specific needs and available accommodations. (Disney, for example, has a wide variety of services for patrons with disabilities.)
- Keep your routine as intact as possible. If you can, rent a house or Airbnb instead of getting a hotel room. This will give you more control over meal prep, baths, and sleeping arrangements.
- Practice good transitions. Take the few minutes between activities to make sure your child has a bathroom break, a snack, or even just a few deep breaths.
- Pack for your child’s sensory triggers. Helpful items might include noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses, smelling jars, or a picky eater’s favorite snack.
- Plan your stops. If you’re driving, pack a cooler and eat at rest areas or parks instead of restaurants. Build in time to let your child run around and burn off excess energy.
- Keep your own expectations in check. Leave plans open-ended whenever possible. Rather than trying to stick to a rigid schedule, try to do just one or two things each day.
- Make sure your child knows what to expect. Print out maps, brochures, and photos from Google or Yelp and go over them together. Practice waiting in line and develop strategies for dealing with overwhelming situations.
- Build in downtime. Each member of the family should have time to go for a walk, read a book, or do whatever calms and centers them. Remember, taking time for yourself will allow you to be more present and able to fully enjoy your time together.
Some Tips for Staying Home
- Keep your routine as intact as possible. If you do need to change up your family’s schedule, talk to your child about how this week will be different than usual.
- Take day trips. Shorter, focused outings are generally cheaper and allow you to maintain more control over meals, timing, etc.
- Look for less trafficked alternatives to popular destinations. Check out smaller train or art museums, or go see your local minor league team instead of the Cubs.
- Know when other schools are on break. Keep in mind that play places and other popular destinations will be much, much busier than usual.