Why are vacations so challenging for my son who has dyspraxia?


Dyspraxia makes planning, organizing and/or executing skilled nonhabitual tasks difficult. And dyspraxia doesn’t take a vacation! Add up being out of a routine, in a place(s) other than home that has all sorts of different things in it, maybe even with a different car, and doing new activities with other people (many of whom may not be familiar). All on top of what it took to get to your vacation destination in the first place! The abundance of novelty can be especially demanding for a child with dyspraxia, even when there’s family fun involved. On the other hand, vacation novelty presents a natural opportunity to work on praxis and to practice strategies.

Some tips for vacationing with dyspraxia:

1. Observe and take your child’s perspective – where are the challenges? His physical relationship with the environment? Objects? Other people? Some or all of the above? This’ll help you know how you can help him (and how you can help him help himself).

2. Take a few minutes to empower him in his new environment(s). For example, “explore” where things are and how new things like faucets, knobs, toilets, showers work before he actually has to use them. Decide where he will sleep, play and keep his things. Put something out that will make his space feel like his (even if he has to share it). Take note of his comments and ideas, and what he has noticed.

3. Keep it simple (lots of outings, experiences and stuff may not be as much fun as play at the beach with one or two water or sand toys). Doing something new, in a place where he’s never been, with all sorts of other people around gets complex, demanding, potentially overstimulating, and/or exhausting.

4. Bring a few “surprises” from home along. Familiar toys/activities, in addition to the travel bag he’s packed for himself can be presented proactively or when he’s needy; he’ll find comfort doing something he knows and loves.

5. Remember your child may need you to prep him for new activities – telling him about them, showing him pictures and/or telling him what he will be doing, and assuring him you (or a designated person who he knows) will be there to help if he needs it. Bringing along a familiar toy may be helpful.

6. Appreciate that your positive presence is anchoring! When he’s in need, he’s accustomed to you helping him organize his actions (just like at home, only probably more!). And when you’re going to do something else, let him specifically know who he can count on.

7. Work up to the big groups, whether you’re talking about family or public settings.

8. Recognize that refusal or noncompliance may be your son’s version of a “fight, flight or freeze” response, which means he’s in survival mode and likely fearful or anxious. Think about what works at home and how you can adapt that strategy. Encourage participation without putting him on the spot, and help by modeling, guiding him or talking him through new activities ( “Let’s take some time for you to get to know what this is all about…would you like to do it by yourself or do you want me to do it with you this time?”). Take a break for some steady, repetitive familiar physical activity if needed; it should help settle his brain and body. Plan to follow up complex situations with a favorite or more simple activity. Be aware of when it’s time for a rest.

9. Keep expectations and the schedule of the day clear.

10. Make some special plans for you too!

Dyspraxic or not, we’ve all experienced that changes in scenery, routines and activities affect us, for better or for worse. Whether you’re taking a long vacation or planning a day trip, may these tips help bring out the best in your family during your anticipated “time off”. Who knows?…. This vacation may well be the break you and your child need to move forward!

–Sheila Allen, MA, OT

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