Yesterday, as I reflected on our recent trip to Disney with our Aspie and typically-developing kids, I was remembering two family trips that did NOT go as well. Traveling with a kid on the spectrum is hard.
Vacation is different. You get to sleep in (theoretically), you get to stay up late, you get to visit new places, you get to try new foods, you get to have extra dessert, you get to buy new things. Vacation is all different.
For a typically-developing child, all that "different" adds up to some amazingly fun and exciting (albeit over-sugared and over-tired) fun. To be clear, traveling with typical kids is hard, too, in that it's not really much of a vacation for parents, throws off sleep schedules, and makes lots of work for mommy before and afterwards. But, typical kids see all that "different" as FUN!
But, traveling with a kid on the spectrum has that "different" PLUS the disrupted routines, unknown places and food, different smells and decor, different sounds...all of it...everything's different. And for an Aspie, different means terrifying.
We tried two vacations with 4A. The first was to Rehobeth Beach, DE when 4A was 3 (not yet on medicine) and 4B was 18 months. Please trust me when I say that it was a disaster of epic proportions. So bad that we didn't go on vacation again for two years. Two years.
On that beach trip, 4A was in her obsessed-with-Cruella DeVil stage. For an Aspie, the traditional toddler or preschooler obsession with a character or a movie or a toy takes on a whole other dimension of insanity. She was obsessed with the Glenn Close version of CdV, especially the "crazy hair." Oh my! In an attempt to do something fun for her, I mistakenly did up her hair on our first day of vacation.
Every single solitary time thereafter that we washed her hair or headed out, she wanted that crazy hair. No problem...happy to do it....it's vacation after all. EGADS! For a typical kid, you'd do it up again, close as you could to how it looked the first time, and you'd make do.
Not with my Aspie. Of course, I knew well enough to use the same hair ties, the same general configuration, etc. Not good enough. Absolute hysterial, blood-curdling tantrum if it didn't look EXACTLY as it did the first time. I had this "rule" for myself that I would attempt it, only if she asked nicely. If she asked nicely for the crazy hair, I wanted to reinforce the "niceness" of the request. Positive reinforcement of behavior that I wanted to encourage, right?
Now, you're probably wondering what the big deal is, especially if you know me. I do NOT negotiate with terrorists, I mean whiners. Tantrum about not getting your way with me, and you're done. That's it. I don't give in.
This crazy hair business was particularly sticky. It was vacation. We were trying to have fun. With a typical kid, a tantrum lasts 30 minutes or so, and everything goes back the way it was. Not so with my Aspie.
Let's say she asked nicely. I would attempt to do the crazy hair. If she flipped out about how I'd done it, the behavioral plan at the time necessitated that we extinguish all attention until she could be quiet for three minutes. First, in the particular condo that we were in, the bedroom doors didn't lock. At home, we put her in a room where the door locked on the outside because Dr. Steve had said that even our hand on the door constituted attention. Basically, she knew we were there if we were holding the door closed, and that meant attention. So, the only place I could lock her in that condo wasn't going to work because tantrums never stopped unless ALL attention was extinguished.
At this point, if I ignored a request for crazy hair, whether a polite request or not, or if I didn't do it "right," we effectively had no way to stop the tantrum. Plus, since it was vacation, we didn't want to stay in the damn condo ALL day. If we had said we were going out for ice cream, something we and 4B were excited about (it was vacation, after all), we had to go, tantrum or not, because we had said we were going, and tantruming was never allowed to be a reason to escape a non-preferred activity.
Consequently, that ENTIRE trip was a tantruming mess, mostly about that ridiculous crazy hair. You can see, I think, why it took us two years to get brave enough to try again.
The second family vacation that we tried was when 4A was 3.5 y/o and 4B was 2 y/o. We took them to Hershey Park, PA. Behaviorally, it did go a bit better, mostly, I think, because we went for only one day. Plus, she was excited enough about the merry-go-round and the ferris wheel that she was distracted.
Well, Dr. Steve was helping us potty train her at the time. She absolutely, utterly refused to use the potty. She tantrumed so badly about it, that the first step of the potty behavioral plan was to physically restrain her on the toilet until she could be quiet for ten seconds. You know how freakin' long it took to get her to stay quiet for ten seconds?!? Probably fifteen minutes or so the first time. One time, she tantrumed so badly while I restrained her on a potty chair that she broke the damn thing and cut her thigh. UGH! That set us back even further. But, I digress. That whole potty training saga is a story for another day.
At the time of this Hershey Park trip, she would use the toilet for pee but refused to poop on it. We were using an adult dose of prescription laxative, and we had taken away diapers. Dr. Steve figured the laxative would make it impossible for her not to go so that she'd opt for the toilet over pooping in her underwear.
Wrong. 4A held her stool for EIGHT DAYS, my friend. EIGHT F***ing days.
Unfortunately, the shit damn broke loose in the middle of Hershey Park. Watery stool just came running down her legs...everywhere. She couldn't control it at that point. She's hysterical, of course, and I'm trying to clean it up enough that we can get her to the bathroom and change. 4Daddy is wrangling 4B and trying to hunt out the nearest bathroom. I finally got her cleaned up enough that I could strip her, toss the soiled clothes and get her to the bathroom. Some ASSHOLE Hershey employee came over and hollered at us to change all diapers in the bathroom. Are you kidding me?!? Yeah, I'll get right on that, buddy.
I figure these two past experiences with 4A made the success at Disney all the more sweet. Oh, we've had beach vacations since then, and they've been worlds better. But this Disney trip was the first one where she really enjoyed herself, didn't have any meltdowns, and seemed more like a "regular" kid.
Guess what they say is true...that place IS the most damn magical place on the planet!