Taking a child with special needs out for the day probably fills most parents with sheer terror: What if he kicks off in a public place? What if he eats something he shouldn’t? What if he runs away? What if he inappropriately touches someone?
These concerns are all totally reasonable, as taking a child out with special needs comes with some difficulties and problems. However I feel it is so beneficial for children to get out into their environment and explore and learn from it. The more you take your child out the easier it will become, as they get more used to it. Here are some of the things that have really helped me when it comes to going on outings with Sonny:
– Ring ahead.
This may be a no brainer to some, but I learnt this one the hard way. Sonny and I had been going to the same swimming pool every week over the summer holidays. We brazenly rocked up to the entrance with our usual frenzy of excitement, ‘we’re at the swimming pool Sonny! WE’RE AT THE SWIMMING POOL YAAAYYYY CAN’T WAIT FOR ALL THIS FUN WOOOO’. Only to be told by the lady at reception that we weren’t allowed in because they had changed the timetable. ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATED.
After 5 minutes of me pleading/shouting/crying/bribing I realised she was not going to budge. What followed was a full-blown meltdown in the car park (that was totally necessary and called for, and was totally my fault) that could have easily been avoided, if I had rung up before. We managed to get ourselves to a nearby soft play centre and took out our frustration with the swimming pool lady on the padded walls.
Wherever we are going, I ring up on the day just to let them know we are coming, ask about prices and opening times, and also if they have any special facilities for disabled customers, some places are really accommodating so its definitely worth doing.
– Make public transport less of a bloody nightmare.
The Citymapper App on my phone has been an absolute lifesaver. I am shocking at geography, directions, general navigation, but this little babe of an app saves me every time. It knows your current location, so you just put in where you want to go, and BAM. It tells you what bus route/tube line to take, how long it will take you to get to your destination, how often buses come to that particular bus stop, I mean it literally couldn’t make it easier. This has been particularly useful when a day doesn’t go to plan (see above.) Sonny can get bored quite easily, so if I don’t judge it right, what I assume will be an all day activity will end up being an hour tops. So a quick Google search for the postcode of the nearest park, bosh it in Citymapper and Bob’s your uncle Fanny’s your aunt you have swiftly avoided a meltdown. Thank you very much please.
– Bring stuff they love.
Again, fairly common-sensical but bringing things they are motivated by can help long journeys on a bus or tube. I keep a stash of bubble wrap in my hand bag, as Sonny likes popping the bubbles (and I like it as it cannot be used as a weapon, or hurt anyone when thrown). I sometimes give him my phone to play some games on too if it’s a really long journey. Other sensory objects include a hairbrush (Sonny likes to use it to stroke his arms), anything small that lights up, a small pot of play-dough. I also take a few things just in case whilst we are out he gets agitated (a pot of bubbles is usually a winner, and some balloons to blow up and then let them go).
– Prepare your child for where you are going.
Sometimes getting the child out of the house can be difficult. What I have found helpful is to show the child pictures of where you are going (just a quick Google Images search works.) Giving the child photos of what you are going to be doing often motivates them to get there. Making sure to keep reminding them where you are going also helps them to stay calm. Sonny is very good at directions (which makes one of us) so he can get very confused if I take him somewhere new. For example, he knows the way to a local soft play centre from his house, and I told him we were going to soft play, but it was a different one, (in Notting Hill). He found it hard to comprehend but I kept showing him pictures and reassuring him we were going to soft play, just that we had to go a different way, to a different one, which helped him understand and remain calm.
When we first started, we took it very slow, as we were aware it was a very different experience for him to go through. I started by taking him to places he already knew and loved (like the local park or swimming pool) so he would associate going out with me as a fun and positive experience. Now I take him all over London, and most of the time he loves it and gets a lot from it. I make sure I take him swimming and to soft play at least once a month though, as that’s what he likes doing best. Sometimes he has a melt down while we are out, which usually consists of him dropping to the floor, taking off his shoes and crying or shouting. It is inevitable when working with children with autism that it can happen, but I have learnt that being prepared for it when it happens, and remaining calm is the most helpful thing to do.