How Travel Helped with My Child’s Sensory Challenges

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Many parents to kids with autism cringe at the mere thought of traveling with their kids. They focus on how the kids’ routine will be altered which will lead to heightened anxiety and meltdowns. However, that may not always be the case. Traveling could also not only help educate kids but assist them in many unforeseen ways. For our son with autism, we found regular travel has benefited him with his sensory challenges as well as life skills. To encourage other parents to try traveling with their kids we decided to share some of the ways travel helped our son with autism.

Walking on the Beach

Our son dealt with many sensory issues when it came to beach trips. We decided to take a compulsory beach vacation every year to get him acclimated to swimming. It wasn’t easy the first time he had to walk on the sand! It was in Tulum, Mexico. Initially, he cursed, screamed, and stopped every minute to clean his shoes of sand and debris. We slowly worked on his sensory issues and eventually the persistence paid off for him and us.
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Feeling Confident to Swim

Our son reacted similarly to water every time we encouraged him to swim. Though our son knew how to swim, he had to be thrown into the pool every year to re-familiarize him with water.

The breakthrough came in Ixtapa, Mexico when he had to swim in a deep pool to play with dolphins during a dolphin experience. He first panicked and held on to the side rails not wanting to let go at any cost. We pointed out that he could try holding on to his life jacket instead (just to give him some confidence) and it worked well. Soon he played with the dolphins and forgot he was in deep water.
How Travel Helped with My Child's Sensory Challenges water

 

Masks on His Face

Like many other kids with autism or sensory integration disorder problems, our son did not agree to wear anything on his face for a long time. This fact finally changed when we started visiting the Caribbean Islands, and he saw his dad and brother snorkeling.

The first year he opted not to wear any mask on his face and therefore he couldn’t go snorkeling. The following year he asked to try and go snorkeling in the open sea. This year, after experiencing Seatrek, he asked if he could take scuba diving lessons. So over time we gained a lot of ground, but it did take a lot of time and patience.

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Wearing Hats and Mittens

Our son is particularly temperature sensitive and for many years refused to wear any jacket or even long sleeves. It was quite a challenge to travel with him during winter months. On some trips when the temperature frequently dropped below zero, it was especially difficult.

We’re glad to say that nowadays he has gotten used to wearing coats, hats, and even mittens. This fact makes it easier for all of us to travel to many places with colder climates.

How Travel Helped with My Child's Sensory Challenges coat

Tolerating New Smells

Tolerating smells was exceptionally hard for our son in Asia since many of the dishes use pungent spices that our son had never smelled before. Like everything else, we focused on exposure and desensitization in small increments. So now when he experienced a  new odor, he wants to explore and discover what it is rather than try to avoid it.

 

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Tolerating Noises

Tolerating noises has been one of our top issues while traveling. It was especially challenging whenever we stayed in hotels or on cruise ships. After a decade of traveling it is only recently that he has gotten better about falling asleep even if he hears minor noises that he’s not used to.

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Touched by Strangers

As frequent travelers, we pass through airports at least once a month, so the TSA was an ongoing issue for our son. Even though we always explained his diagnosis to the agents, it became exceedingly difficult. We ended up getting the Global Entry pass to help him with his anxiety. This year the breakthrough we were waiting for came.Our son now reacts better to strangers touching him, if necessary, not only at the TSA but in other public places where crowds are typical. These areas include theme parks, museums, malls, and in particular countries where proximity between people is the norm.

How Travel Helped with My Child's Sensory Challenges airport

Crowds

As a rule of thumb, we have tried the best we could to avoid going to places that have crowds. However, sometimes it is unavoidable. We’re happy to say that although our son is far from being comfortable in a group, he is now handling it much better.

How Travel Helped with My Child's Sensory Challenges crowds

Lines

When we first started traveling as a family, standing in a line, even a short one, was pretty much an impossibility. With time this has become a little bit better. Nowadays we can stay in line for up to twenty minutes, especially if it is for an item or attraction in which our son has an interest.He sat in the sweltering sun for over half an hour to get the coveted autograph of a character in Hogsmeade.

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Trying New Foods and Textures

Like many other kids growing up, our son preferred fast food items to regular food. However, all that changed once we started traveling and he got introduced to new dishes in the various countries we visited. Now our son is probably the most adventurous eater out of the entire family. Our son always wants to sample new items that even we, his parents, and other seasoned travelers might find a bit unappealing.

How Travel Helped with My Child's Sensory Challenges food

 

Travel is a great way for kids with autism to get exposed to new sensations. It is also a great way for parents to help teach kids how to handle certain situations. Parents need to focus on the big picture without short-term setbacks discouraging them. Bottom line, persistence pays for both parents and their children, particularly when they have special needs.

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Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids

 

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids BRIDGE
We got a chance to visit Wai-O-Tapu Park on our cruise around Australia and New Zealand on board the Sapphire Princess.
The New Zealand thermal park with the Maori name meaning “Sacred Water,” is 27 km from the city of Rotorua and is in New Zealand’s volcanic zone centrally located on the North Island.
The park is known for tourism as well as education, so there are booklets, pamphlets and maps are available in a few languages.

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids FIRE

This geographical marvel of a park is famous for its colorful volcanic activity and even has the Lady Knox Geyser that draws crowds every morning. There are champagne colored water and bubbling mud pools that you reach mostly by foot over bridges and platforms.With thousands of years in the making, the place is truly a thermal wonderland and a global sensation.

The park’s unique features are its diverse natural landscapes, the geyser as mentioned earlier that erupts daily at 10:15 am, and the vast mud pool that is the site of a mud volcano that was destroyed by erosion almost a century ago. The pools of thick bubbling mud are quite mesmerizing to watch.

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Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit this park is from spring to fall when the days are longer, and you can extend your stay and make the most of the day.
The park is open every day in spring through fall 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and in winter 8:30 am to 6:00 pm.

The visitor center is where you can purchase the tickets and get information on the different hikes through the park. There are also souvenirs and gifts available at the gift shop, which make lovely keepsakes of this fascinating place and New Zealand.
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You don’t need to buy anything in advance though it might get somewhat crowded when the large cruise ships are in town and bring hundreds of visitors in buses.Prices for adults are NZ$32 and for children NZ$11 which covers ages 5 to 15. Children under five get to go in free so a family can get in for NZ$80.Conditions

Wai-O-Tapu Park Conditions

The vast outdoor park has small boarded and mesh-reinforced walkways that are relatively comfortable to traverse by foot, but not very easy to navigate by wheelchair because not all of them are smooth. Also, you should be aware that it’s very slippery after a rainfall because of the muddy environment.
The park has secure lockers for storing belonging, and there are toilet facilities for people a with disabilities as well as picnic areas.
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Autism Travel Tips

  • There is a self-serve café where one can purchase hot and cold beverages and food.  If your child has specific dietary needs, you will need to take this into account as the facilities do not provide a vast selection of allergy or food sensitivity options on the menu. There are facilities for picnics, so if your child enjoys that, it is an option.
  • The weather can be unpredictable so bring a jacket in case it gets cold all of a sudden.
  • As the park is outdoors and large, travelers need to come with appropriate shoes. Closed, walking shoes are ideal and not flip-flops or sandals.Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids FOREST
  • If your child has tactile sensitivities, you should pack a poncho because in some areas they may experience some sprinkling or misting which settles on the skin and can leave them feeling damp and uncomfortable.
  • If your child is sensitive to smell, be aware that the area has an unyielding sulfur smell because of the volcanic activity. It is advisable to bring a mask to mitigate the strong odors.
  • Some children may find the bright colored waters somewhat scary so make sure you explain ahead of time what they’re going to see. Furthermore, prepare them for the fact that they cannot touch anything since many of the fluids in the lakes are toxic.

Wai-O-Tapu Park ,New Zealand With Kids BOYS

  • There are no toilet facilities out in the park, only at the Visitor’s Center so make sure to let your child know the importance of this before you embark on the tour.
  • During the summer months, it might be wise to wear insect repellent to make sure you’re not bitten by mosquitos and other biting bugs.
  • There are no shelters from the sun, so there is no resting place with shade. Carry extra drinking water and wear sunscreen and hats to prevent sunburn.

 

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