A long car trip with the family might sound like the beginning of a migraine for many parents, but travelling long distance with a child who has autism can, in some cases, be even more stressful. This was certainly the challenge Ray Wheeler faced when he and his 9 year-old daughter, Taliyah, had to drive 370km on a return trip to Bunbury.
“After my wife Kylie found out she had to work the weekend we were supposed to make the trip, I realised I needed to start making plans to make the journey as easy as possible,” Ray said.
“Taliyah is a complex child and her reactions to situations can be very different one day to the next. Trying to predict how she’ll react to a journey and preventing any possible triggers is definitely the hardest part.”
Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist, Olov Falkmer said that car trips with a child with disability can be challenging for a variety of reasons.
“It can be hard to prepare the child for what is going to happen, like how long the trip is going to take. The boredom of long drives affects us all and it can be especially frustrating for children who don’t understand why it takes so long to get to the destination,” Olov said.
“There are also safety concerns to think of, such as the child unbuckling their seat belt. The child might also feel ‘trapped’ in the confined space and this may cause them to become overwhelmed and find it hard to regulate their emotions.”
Taliyah’s therapy team helped prepare Ray for the trip by providing communication tools and visuals aids, as well as ideas for activities and toys that would be calming for Taliyah. And with careful planning and preparation the trip was a great success.
“We had no problems the whole trip! Taliyah travelled well and there was no dangerous behaviour. We even went to a small restaurant for lunch and she sat and ate happily and quietly. I didn’t have to prompt her or do any countdowns all day,” Ray said.
In reflecting on the success of the trip, Ray offered some advice for families gearing up for a journey of their own saying, “Be prepared, think of every possible scenario and make sure you have solutions ready.”
“Plan your journey; consider which route is the easiest, whether there are places to pull over during the trip and if there’s somewhere your child can go to de-stress when you arrive. Allow enough time in case things go wrong and don’t forget to bring their necessary sensory or comfort items.”
Pictured: Taliyah enjoying lunch after a successful car trip to Bunbury.