For some time now, I’ve been meaning to write an article offering some advice to friends and family of Special Needs parents. I think it’s important that we recognize how difficult, awkward and frustrating it can be for our friends and family to watch us struggle on a daily basis with our kids and not really know how to help or even what to say.
We recently took a vacation to Aruba with my extended family in celebration of my wife’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. As my fellow Autism parents can attest, a beach resort vacation with a child on the Spectrum does not exactly match the serene picture on the resort’s website. My son, now 8 years old, is prone to wander, climb, explore and randomly pee on and off things such as trees, rocks and jungle gyms. Sitting and relaxing on the beach just isn’t in the cards for us. My wife and I both lost weight on our vacation (how often does that happen?) simply due to chasing our little maniac around the island for seven days. Our trip gave me the perfect opportunity to show some examples of a family doing it right. And this article gives me the perfect opportunity to thank my family.
Day 1: The flight was 4.5 hours. Eric, not a fan of airplanes, was stressed and anxious for most of the day. We landed and arrived at our hotel around dinner time and our family met us for dinner at a nearby restaurant. We had just ordered our dinner. Eric was extremely cranky. It was already an hour past his bedtime and he was just fried from the trip. I recognized that a complete meltdown was imminent and told my wife and family that I was going to leave the restaurant and bring him back to the hotel. They offered no judgement, no parenting advice, no criticism. They simply kissed us and told us they would see us in the morning. An hour later they arrived back at the hotel with a complete “to go” dinner for me. They nailed it.
Short Term Relief
Day 3: We attempted to take Eric parasailing with my daughter. He is extremely sensory-seeking and we thought he would love the experience. Eric got extremely anxious and refused to get on the boat. I offered to stay with him and let my wife continue on the excursion with my daughter. My wonderful sisters-in-law volunteered to entertain (read: chase) Eric for a couple hours to let me join my wife and daughter. I was very reluctant to leave him, but they convinced me that he would be fine (and he was). They nailed it.
Day 4: The entire family booked a sunset catamaran cruise around the island. Eric, already apprehensive around boats, was extremely anxious. A few hours before the cruise I expressed concern and doubt about how he was going to handle the trip. My brother-in-law and father-in-law, two of the best dads I know, offered no advice. In fact, they made a point of acknowledging they had none to offer. They simply acknowledged how difficult it must be for me, offered me a beer, and joined me in some much-needed adult conversation for a few minutes. They nailed it.
As the time arrived to leave for our cruise, Eric was extremely difficult. I knew he would love the boat once we set sail, but convincing him was difficult. I had to carry him the half mile trek up the beach to the dock (he gets very clingy when he’s anxious). Upon our arrival he was crying, I was sweating and at the end of my rope. I was just about ready to pull the plug on that trip as well when my niece walked up, kissed me on the cheek, and gave me a hug. She wasn’t offering pity. She was simply recognizing our struggle. She didn’t offer advice. She didn’t judge. She just offered a small token of support. She nailed it. (And he loved the sail once we got going, by the way).
The Extra Mile
Day 7: After a wonderful week it was time to go home. Return flights from Aruba are notoriously rigorous. Customs and security are tight and the lines in the airport are horrendous! We arrived at the airport three hours early and there were already dozens of people ahead of us in line for check in. I am always reluctant to pull the “Autism” card for special treatment in these situations. I think it’s important to teach my son patience, self control and coping skills. So I fully braced myself for the long ordeal of waiting in line with my son. My brother-in-law, who travels a lot for work, enjoyed the luxury of preferred and expedited check in for his immediate family and he was allowed to move to the front of the line. After blowing through most of my ammunition (lollipops and iPad Apps) within 10 minutes of arrival, I was in serious trouble. Just then a customer service representative tapped me on the shoulder and directed me and my family to join my brother-in-law and his family at the front of the line. He pulled some strings and saved us. He nailed it.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog.