The Summer Vacation Conundrum

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For many, summer vacation is the stuff of dreams. Sleeping in until, well, whenever! Staying up late, swimming, camping, hanging out, riding bikes, going someplace cool with the family. For parents of children with special needs, it can be a time of stress and worry about how to fill the days. Sometimes parents have their own countdown, of when school goes back. I’ve often been deeply criticized for it, but I make no apologies for venting about those times; nor do I now. Parenting is challenging no matter how it’s presented in your life. People have to work, camp and vacation spots are expensive and those long summer weeks can quickly turn into decision making, corner cutting and ingenuity to make it fun and not drag by.

The art of transition in children with Autism

If you talk to parents of children on the spectrum, they will often tell you that some of the hardest moments are those that involve change. It can be as simple as their favorite show moving to a new time slot on the summer lineup, a change of cover picture on their favorite box of cereal, to the mere idea that tomorrow, there will be no school. Expectations of repetitive events are key for some to handle the day. Our ability as people not challenged by these feelings can adapt to having to rush out of the house for a last minute client or make an extra stop on the way home to pick up something we forgot. For children who become paralyzed with change, summer vacations can be paralyzing.

I need a vacation because I just went on vacation with my kids

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I remember the first time I took both of my children on the autism spectrum for a six day and five night vacation to the beach, alone, two weeks after my father died. I dreamed of a cathartic time of respite and renewal and for a great deal of the time, it was! However, I didn’t realize the work that goes into assuring they were safe, their behaviors in check, monitoring their interactions with other adults and children and basically not sitting down for more than 30 seconds at a time. It was wonderful to see them enjoying the ocean and just being kids. However, once we got back, I found myself exhausted, numb with fatigue and needing at least a week to recover. The kids were ready to keep going and wanted to know when the next adventure would begin, thinking it was the new norm.

I wouldn’t change the opportunity to go there, nor the length of time we did, but I did realize that we, as parents and loved ones of those with disabilities, our experiences vary greatly when it comes to summer vacation. It brings me great joy to look back at the pictures of them, laughing and running in and out of the waves and letting the stress, now a distant memory, wash away and remember just the good time we had. Now, I just go for a shorter amount of time, knowing what I can handle and what I can’t.

But mommmmmmm, it’s ONLY $250 a week!!!

I had quite the wake up call that second summer after my parents and husband died. I had a very bored little girl who wanted something to do during the day. Most of her friends were off and doing other things, especially CAMP. I remember going to camp with the Girl Scouts many years ago and the amazing memories I made, however, my daughter had a very difficult time with the social and participatory aspect of Girl Scouts, so I had to pull her from the troop. Sad, but it was the right move at the time.

So, here I was, faced with endless days ahead for her (and me) and I wanted her to have the opportunity to do what the other kids were doing. My admiration for those who spend their summers enriching the lives of children in the thousands of camp opportunities amaze me and considering your child is there for sometimes six or more hours a day, the activities enriching and continuous, it’s a great way to spend the days. That summer, I sent my daughter to five full weeks of camp. She had a blast, but when it came time to tell her the next summer that the funds weren’t available, I went through quite the meltdown over it, for weeks on end. I was mean, hateful, didn’t love her, and while those words hurt a bit, I knew she didn’t have the filters a lot of us possess and most certainly not the capability to understand the finances behind that decision. This summer, there won’t be camp, but hopefully, I’m getting my ducks in a row to line up a good summer for her.

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From a child’s perspective, those long weeks that can sometimes loom for us as parents fly by quickly. So, for those of you out there who wonder what is the best course of action when weeks of warm (or boiling hot!) summer days are ahead, try to remember when we were kids. We didn’t have mortgage priced camps to attend, we made our own fun. That’s what I’m going to do my best to do this summer.

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