Tips for a Successful Family Outing with Your Child with Autism or Developmental Disabilities
Amy Kelly with her daughter Annie
family activities can be a challenging task for any parent. But when one or more
of your children have autism or a developmental disability, a simple walk to
the park can become overwhelming, or could even prevent families from enjoying
much-needed quality time together.
Advanced Behavioral Health Director of Family and Community Services Amy Kelly – and a mother to three
children (one with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities) – shares
six essential tips for planning recreational activities that will be fun for
the whole family.
- Have a plan: Prepare all members of your family –
particularly your child with the disability – with a plan of the day’s
activities. Your plan should be explained verbally and through visuals like
pictures, maps social stories and schedules, to plot the day out ahead of time.
If you are visiting a museum, ask for a brochure to be sent to your home so you
can walk your child through the day before you leave the house. The more your
child knows what to expect, the more likely you all will have a great day.
- Create an outing toolkit: Before you walk out the door, pack a
bag with the necessary “tools” your child may need for a successful outing. This
toolkit should include communication devices, a tablet for movies or games,
sensory/fidget toys and other favorite items that will help soothe your child. Don’t
forget a change of clothes, or special foods or treats to help your child have
fun and remain calm. Having this toolkit can help stave off undesired behaviors
and prevent a potential tantrum.
- Be prepared to leave: Sometimes, even the best laid plans
fail. If your outing is a day of family leisure, be accepting of the fact that
you may need to leave early. Having this discussion with all family members will
help set expectations and prevent emotions from running high if you need to
make an early exit. Although this can be disappointing, try focusing on the
things that went well that day, and the success that your family made by going
out in the first place.
- Have an extra set of eyes: Don’t try to do it alone. Be prepared
with additional adult supervision and assistance to manage the day, especially
if you have multiple children. This can be anyone from a therapist who can
address the needs of your child with the disability, or a grandparent who can
help attend to the other siblings when your full attention is required
elsewhere. If this level of assistance is not available, the peace of mind that
comes with the support of a paid babysitter can be invaluable.
- Safety first: Always research the venue before you
leave the house and understand the risk factors. Whether it’s a park, a pool, a
museum, or your own backyard, know where you are going and what can you do to
prepare. If the space is out in the open and you know your child tends to
wander, add a nametag with your cell phone number to the back of his or her
shirt (especially if they are sensory sensitive) with your contact information
– just in case. If you are going somewhere crowded, like a sporting event, make
sure you have additional adult supervision to monitor the situation. Being over-prepared
will always be worth any additional required planning time.
- Recognize the little things: Life is about enjoying the seemingly
small moments, which actually turn out to be the foundation for the big moments
in our lives. It’s especially important for families living with an individual
with disabilities to find joy in everyday accomplishments. Appreciating time
together as a family, with shared moments, laughter and the occasional ‘blooper
and blunder’ are really what make lasting memories. Savor them!
Learn about Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.
About Amy Kelly …
Kelly is the mother to Danny, Annie and Ryan. Annie is diagnosed with moderate
to severe autism, verbal apraxia, intellectual and developmental disabilities
and general anxiety disorder. Amy is the Director of Family/Community
Services for Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, one of the nation’s oldest and largest
nonprofit providers of behavioral healthcare, and serves as a family
representative on several special needs boards in the community, locally and
nationally. In addition, she participates with other patients and families in
efforts supported by the American Board of Pediatrics Foundation and the Autism
Speaks Autism Treatment Network to address children with special needs and the
importance of quality care.