A few weeks ago, I was having a tough day so I asked people who Like my Facebook Page to share some good news. Kim shared that her son had gone on his first overnight trip with his class. Fantastic! I asked if she would be willing to share how she and her son’s Developmental Learning team prepared everything so he could participate and enjoy the 3 day, 2 night trip. Below is her story. Thanks for sharing Kim!
The day I found out about Liam’s Outdoor Ed trip I did not panic. I went into Autism mommy mode instead. I started running scenarios through my head. With questions right alongside. Should he go? Would he enjoy it? Can they accommodate his needs? Would he panic? Would I end up driving to get him in the middle of the night?
Liam wanted to go. His friend Craig* (name changed) had made it sound like fun. He wanted to be with his friends. Liam wanted to do what his friends were doing. Liam had no idea what he was in for. Without having a prior experience with mental pictures to draw from…he simply had no idea.
Thankfully I have a great communication system with his Developmental Learning (DL) teacher. I sent her a note the next morning letting her know I wanted to get together to discuss the trip. She of course was all for it. We set up a time for about a week later due to March Break starting. In the meantime, she began asking the staff involved for information which included a basic breakdown of the typical day at the centre. It also included a diagram of the dorm rooms. She spoke with the school principal about accommodations for Liam’s needs.
Sitting down to talk with Liam’s DL teacher we went through and listed what his regular morning and evening routines generally were. We discussed what foods he likes and doesn’t like; and how his food can’t touch on his plate. We discussed some of the chores he is able to be responsible for at home (taking out the recyclables after school, putting out napkins for dinner, making his bed). We made lists of special items he would be allowed to bring, and what different things he should bring. We came up with a contact plan in case of homesickness.
The Outdoor Ed centre did their part too. They were able to give his teacher a basic run down of what meals were generally served. They sent tons of outdoor and indoor pictures from the centre to give Liam visuals to see before the trip. They explained what sort of helping chores the kids would be expected to participate in.
The biggest accommodation to Liam’s needs was in his sleeping quarters. Usually all the boys share one large bunk bed room; and the girls another large bunk bed room. There are also separate rooms where the teachers and parent volunteers would sleep. Liam and one friend were given a room in this area to reduce the noise and commotion triggers for him. With just the two of them it was a quiet place to go.
Prior to the trip story booklets were made up. One for each day that included a schedule with picture references to keep Liam on track and to help him see “what’s coming next”. Not being to know what is coming up later creates a lot of anxiety for him. He also a story booklet about homesickness.
We packed according to the list the centre provided (clothing, bedding). We also packed a digital clock (knowing what time it is at all times is important for him), his ear muffs (to block noise), his mealtime vitamins (can’t break dinner routine!), a rest toy (a stuffy of choice to sleep with), his chapstick and hand cream that he can’t seem to live without. He had a separate backpack with books, toys, and such for keeping busy during quiet time. He was allowed to bring his DS, but that was in the control of the E.A. that was along. Electronics are not allowed (except cameras) but as his iPad wasn’t allowed, this was as a reward system if needed. He never used it!
The other E.A. on the trip also was given my cell phone number to use as a message system before bed each night (3 day/2 night trip). In the case of mid-day homesickness Liam would have the option of texting me if needed. Only heard from him at night! This E.A. sent texts to his teacher on how he was doing during the day, which she then passed on to me.
All in all, he did fantastic! He loved it, he enjoyed it, he PARTICIPATED! One of the teachers on the trip took pictures and Liam was in quite a number of them doing fun things. Reports from the teachers, the E.A.’s and some of the other students (I work with some of his classmates parents) was that he had a great time, it showed, and he was just a regular kid.
With lots of preparation by everyone this trip was a success. No meltdowns or tantrums, he interacted and participated with a group, he tried new things, he always found foods he liked to eat, he wasn’t lonely or left out, he was helpful to others doing meal cleanup, he actually slept – away from home, with no family member. We are all so proud of him.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words……pictures from this adventure could write a novel.
Kim is a married mother of three boys, and works fulltime outside the home. Her middle son (Liam) has diagnosis of “Autism – Pervasive Disorder” and was diagnosed near the end of grade four at 10 years old. Initially, he had been incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD and medicated with Adderal XL until almost a year ago. Since the corrected Autism diagnosis, he is no longer on medication. He is now placed in a Developmental Learning class while integrated in three of eight classes with his mainstream grade 6 class. He is now catching up with social skills, his reading skills have improved, and his speech and language workers continue to work with him as well.