Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An SPD/ADHD Vacation

"Every good action and every perfect gift is from God." (James 1:17, NCV)

Any of us who take a vacation with a child who has special needs know that it can be no vacation at all for we, their caregivers.  And our family's recent vacation to enjoy North America's largest cross-country ski race, The American Birkebeiner, was no exception.  Making accommodations for our young daughter with sensory processing disorder and ADHD was especially challenging.

First, begin with packing.  We need to make sure that this child can wear layers of clothes that won't drive her crazy during our many snow-centered activities.  Do we have socks that aren't scratchy but will keep her warm during our hours outdoors?  How about things that will help her with fidgeting or keep her attention during the trip?  Oh, and don't forget the Epi-Pen and the inhaler!  She'll need two swimsuits as well because one will have to be drying while the other is in use -- She'd never stand for putting on a damp swimsuit.  It's a miracle I can fit it all in one suitcase!

Next, consider the car ride.  This is five of the longest hours of our lives, hoping to keep peace between our youngest and her two older siblings.  Being both sensory seeking and avoidant, she can barely keep herself from smacking her brother next to her while she complains of certain smells in the car.  I ponder if I've brought enough low-sugar snacks and stimulating items to keep her content until our arrival at the hotel.  Thank God, she falls asleep for a bit because sitting still for such an extended period without perpetual motion is nothing short of a miracle for her.  When she's awake, we hear the same question at least every 30 minutes, "How long until we get there?"

By the time we reach the hotel, this is a nightmare, not a vacation!  She's cleverly worn one of her swimsuits under her clothes.  So while we're still trying to carry luggage into the room, she's trying to escape unsupervised to the indoor pool.  Free of her four-wheeled prison, she doesn't hesitate to slap or scream to get her way with the beds or TV in our hotel room.  Everyone is tired and at their limits of tolerance, so there's a chorus of complaining and anger.  At this point, the beer we brought along with us is looking mighty attractive to me!

But God is a God of mercy and unanticipated gifts, so a surprise blessing arrives that evening.  I grant our daughter's curious wish to visit the workout room adjacent to the pool area.  There we find everything a girl with these disorders needs to become manageable.  I stay with her as she tries out the elliptical trainer and the treadmill.  While she's always been an excellent athlete, I'm shocked at how quickly she picks up the rhythm and speed of running on the treadmill.  After she's gotten her heart rate up with every piece of cardiovascular equipment is in the room, she discovers the joy of weight-lifting.  Pushing, pulling, lifting and straining with her arms and legs are just what this child needs!  Her eyes twinkle as we get some water to finish off our workout, and she's far more agreeable to be with for the remainder of the night.

The following morning I don't even have to think twice when she asks to go work out with me during my daily routine.  Although two other visitors arrive while we're exercising, I feel no need to explain why my proud eight-year-old is running on the treadmill.  I sweat while she bounces from machine to machine.  This is just enough to keep her out of trouble until we head into town for her 1K ski race.

Between the pool, skiing and that fitness center, this little girl thrives.  I am so very grateful for the resources I was willing to explore for her while we were on this trip.  There is no doubt that a child like this requires extra grace, but knowing what her needs are and what may meet those needs helps calms everyone's nerves, including hers!  Keeping her attention through new, fun experiences brings more enjoyment.  And recognizing that she has proprioceptive demands that can be met no matter where we are, simply by thinking outside the box, normalizes the vacation time in a strange sort of a way.

What a gift to have some alternate tools on our vacation!  Especially since, in my hurried packing, I forgot the weighted blanket!


  1. I don't know if or is the better resource in your area, but if you have any indoor space on your property to fit some exercise equipment, they can be excellent sources for a nearly-free home gym. A number of years ago we started turning part of our garage into a home physical therapy center. We have a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machine, Nordic Trak ski machine (though I gave that one away again, preferring the elliptical), weight bench/bar with leg-push thingy....we might have spent $50 total on the lot, in gas used to pick the things up. As Ash grows up, you can bet he's going to get some therapy out of it, too.

  2. good morning
    Oh how I must tell you it was an amazing feeling just now to hear you tell of my life :)
    Both my kids have sensory issues. Our daughters so much alike. My son is one end of it and her the other. Don;t even think of combing his hair. Ya better watch out if Dove is coming to hug you. Gotta brace myself so she does not knock me over. for if she does so she is crest fallen.
    I felt a kindred spirit. That felt so good. Nothing like a since of affiliation.

  3. So glad we can share one another's experiences! Rhiannon, we DO have a home gym with bike, weights, exercise ball (which she REALLY likes) and other goodies. Don't know why I never thought to let her in the workout room on vacation. Silly me! Perhaps it was because parents like us are frowned upon and thought to be completely lacking control of our children. Nevertheless, that, combined with a video game on which she was "riding" a motorcycle in a race and had to adjust her body through the curves, were an IMMENSE help!!!

  4. Thank you for sharing! Vacations can be tough, but we have been incredibly lucky and had some fantastic ones! Especially those that involve a pool! :)

    Vote for Hartley's Life With 3 Boys with the NEW 1-click voting link - just click! And share! : )

  5. Barb, love the way you write!

  6. I am so very glad that you were able to find something to help bring her and you peace. You were up in my area of the woods and I hope you enjoyed your time here.

  7. SO grateful for the link provided to this fabulous site that screens vacation destinations for sensory-friendliness: