Packing as a “Teachable Moment”

Packing as a “Teachable Moment”

Packing as a “Teachable Moment”

 

I regret I didn’t always see vacation packing as a “teachable moment” for my autistic kids.

 

I was in full charge of packing all of their items they would need for our trips.  I packed their clothes, shoes, toiletries, and other essentials while I let them choose a couple of their favorite items to bring along.

 

Eventually I let them pack their own bags. Only problem…I would sift through their luggage and start throwing out unnecessary items. I raided their dresser drawers to find the more important stuff they didn’t include.  Sometimes the result was frustration, anger and even a meltdown—by everyone—because they didn’t “pack right” the first time and I was taking out their beloved possessions.

 

On one occasion I let my daughter pack her own things without any preliminary checking before the trip.  Upon arrival of our destination I discovered she was missing some very important essentials (like enough underwear and socks). She had also over-packed non-essential items. She packed 15 stuffed animals in one big bag and brought along another bag stuffed with loose-leaf papers. I understood her need for comfort, but no wonder we could barely get everything in our trunk!

 

I was fully aware then that packing is a learning process that takes time to learn.  Looking back, though, I wish I could have done things very differently.

 

Not truly helping them…

 

By packing for them, I didn’t help them.  I enabled them.  I lost out on the opportunity to use packing as a “teachable moment” to help foster self-help skills.

 

I was also sending them very mixed messages: I told them to pack their own things…believing I was empowering them to be self-sufficient.  And then, I turned around to “undo” their efforts by taking things out or adding them in…not empowering at all! 

 

I lost out on a very BIG “teachable moment”.

 

I was not teaching them in a positive, hands-on way HOW to pack.

 

Sometimes I think we as parents lose sight of how our “means” of interacting with our autistic children might actually be more important than the end-goals.  Every little “teachable moment” has the capacity to help our child develop important life skills.

 

Packing for any trip is indeed a very important “teachable moment” for autistic children. It’s not just arriving at the destination that matters…it’s the act of preparing for it that can set up the attitude for the entire vacation.

 

In addition, there is so much potential skills-building in the act of packing, especially those critical executive functioning skills needed for a self-sufficient, happy life.

 

Don’t make the same mistakes I made! 

 

 

 

If I had to “do it all over again”, I would teach my kids not only how to prepare for a good travel experience but important skills learned in the process of packing.

 

 

 

Here are 5 tips to make packing a “teachable moment”:

 

1. Have your autistic child create his/her own packing list…with your guidance.

 

Once your destination and date of visit has been decided, figure out—with your child—what you need to take. Use apps, destination websites, and videos for help. Have him/her write down, type out, point to, or verbally record two (2) lists of items for (1) larger suitcase; and (2) a personal travel bag.  Help your child figure out what is necessary based on certain conditions:

  • Are you going to the beach or a theme park? Will you visit the desert or mountains?
  • What will the weather be like? Will you be visiting during the summer or winter months?
  • What are activities you plan to do there?
  • How long will you be gone from home? How will you be traveling?
  • What sensory, comfort, or interest-based items would your child like to bring along in a personal bag while traveling to the destination?

 

RECOMMEND: Download important planning apps like The Weather Channel, Waze, and those associated with your destination (like those for the cruise lines and Disney parks). Try to encourage your child do as much of his/her own research and planning as possible.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Research and problem-solving; dressing appropriately for weather and seasons; self-advocacy and social-communication of personal needs and wants. 

 

2. Create a finalized “picture list” of the items in each bag…if necessary.

 

Have your child (or you, if necessary) take pictures of the items on the lists. Using a Word document, put those pictures in one column and then include space to check off the items packed in another column.  Consider laminating this picture list for future travel; use a dry-erase marker for checking off packed items.

 

RECOMMEND: Provide help only if necessary; use this process as a “teachable moment”.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Technical skills with camera and computer (if he/she can’t use these then have your child observe the process); translating written/audio to a visual element to self-advocate; organizational skills and self-confidence.

 

3. Have your autistic child to pack his/her own bags…with supervision.

 

Using the packing list your child created, have him or her start gathering the necessary items together. Pack one larger suitcase for clothes (stored in the trunk or cargo hold) and the other for personal use while traveling in the car or plane (preferably a book-bag). They must be light enough for your child to carry; otherwise, just have him/her carry at least a personal travel bag. Do a final check with your child: make sure that what they are putting in those bags are “reasonable items” for travel.

 

RECOMMEND: Use a sturdy book-bag comfortable on the shoulders and a lightweight rolling suitcase to pull behind. Start packing at least a few days before the trip, in case anything you need or want is missing.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Accountability and responsibility for taking care of personal items during travel and on vacation; organization; understand the process of making realistic choices for travel.

 

4. Have your child transport his/her own bags while traveling…with some reminders.

 

Being responsible for your own possessions at all times is actually not an easy skill for kids to learn.  Many adults can barely do it! Some autistic kids have a harder time keeping track of everything than others. My older son often loses things, so we have him “practice” carrying around a bag with non-expensive/non-critical items.  You may need to gently remind your child (maybe quite often) not to forget his/her bags during transport. That includes carrying a day-bag into a theme park.

 

RECOMMEND: Consider putting a tracker device (like Tile) on your child’s personal bag and suitcase, if necessary. If they want to take their own money and phone everywhere, consider having them wear a fanny-pack or something similar that won’t easily be lost.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Executive functioning and self-help skills; care-taking and responsibility for personal belongings; pride of ownership.

 

5. Have your autistic child re-pack his/her own bags during and after the trip.

 

It’s not enough just to pack your bag before you leave for your trip.  Encourage your child to be accountable for his/her own possessions during the entire trip.  For example:

  • Designate a special place in your resort room to put their own things (i.e. their own drawer, own hanger in the closet, etc.)
  • Help them pack a day bag when you do outings (i.e. swim/beach items; sensory kit; music, books or games, phone, etc.).
  • Take the “pictures lists” with you while you travel. Use this as a visual checklist for all items when leaving your destination. This will be especially important if you have planned several hotel-stays during your trip.

 

RECOMMEND: Consider creating a “picture list” of items for different planned activities.

 

LEARNED SKILLS: Organization; self-help skills; care-taking and responsibility for personal belongings; independence and self-confidence.

 

Packing for a “lifetime”

 

It’s hard—especially for us moms—to take a step back and let our kids figure things out for themselves. Often, we intervene for the wrong reasons: to stay on schedule, to avoid a meltdown, because it makes us feel good to help…

 

But they don’t learn when we do everything for them.  This is not leading them toward self-empowerment.

 

Instead of doing things FOR them, we can GUIDE them using a structured framework.   If we really want to empower our autistic kids to become self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-advocates, we as parents need to “do less” and “guide more”.

 

Despite the challenges of autism, travel can actually be a therapeutic growth experience. By using the process of packing as a “teachable moment”, your child will reap the benefits of gaining valuable life skills long after your trip is over.

 

From travel tips to destination ideas, I would love to help you plan a memorable getaway!  Just click on this link for a free travel consultation!

 

Why Scouts BSA is Terrific for Autistic Youth

Why Scouts BSA is Terrific for Autistic Youth

Why Scouts BSA is Terrific for Autistic Youth

Because we are a Scouting family, I know exactly why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth.  Both of my autistic teens are very involved in Scouts.

I can attest to the amazing progress in my kids that comes with belonging to Scouts BSA.

“Adventure is out there!”

That’s one of my favorite movie quotes from the very cool movie “UP!”  I just love Russell.  He has an infectious enthusiasm for the Scouting way of life.  He is also my husband’s character avatar (who happens to be a BSA troop scoutmaster). No, seriously. My husband looked exactly like Russell when he was a kid.

When my autistic son turned 11, my husband couldn’t wait to introduce him to Scouts.  Camping expeditions, learning knots, campfire cooking, canoe trips, patrol leadership…where else can a young teen do all this and MORE than in Scouts?

Maybe you think…Ok, I get that it’s beneficial for many teen boys and girls.  But why should my autistic child get involved?  Won’t it be another peer-group that will keep my child at arm’s length?

I get it. I had the same fears. Having the social-communication challenges that often come with autism don’t make the road to travel the life stages very easy.

But being involved in Scouts can!  Now that my son is an Eagle Scout, I can share why I believe Scouting is terrific—and actually a better alternative to traditional therapy—for those on the spectrum.

 

Relax in calm settings on Scout outings.

 

The Benefits of Scouts BSA for Those with Autism

Scouts BSA provides that “safe”, natural, inclusive group environment with one’s peers and adult mentors.  In Scouts an autistic youth can develop appropriate skills in social-communication, executive-functioning, confident leadership, self-help, and self-advocacy.

All through FUN ADVENTURES, of course!

In other words, the benefits for a teen with autism to become a Scout are beyond measure!

1. It has a supportive environment for those needing a place to feel included.

No other group-oriented environment provides the same level of long-term, consistent support like Scouts (starting at Kindergarten with Cub Scouts).

Sports and band are only for a few seasons. Church youth groups and high school classes have a single-minded focus.

Therapy environments feel forced and unnatural.  Parents have enough of their plate at home…plus they can’t be their teen’s only role-model if they want him or her to develop independence skills.

A good Scout troop will be…

…Kind and respectful to every person.

Any peer Scout who antagonizes or discourages those on the spectrum would never be tolerated. Ask what protocols have been implemented to not only prevent bullying but to encourage positive interaction among peers.

.…Accommodating to individual needs.

The troops should encourage each person to progress through the ranks at his/her own pace while still giving them challenges to master in order to gain self-confidence. Ask if the troop leadership has been trained to recognize and support those with cognitive-sensory differences.

They should also be willing to meet with parents and discuss how the IEP or other assessment can be used to effectively develop a good plan of achievement for the individual Scout.

Read my article about accessing special needs accommodations in Scouts BSA.

…Building trust by meeting on a consistent basis.

My family’s Scouts BSA troop meets once a week all year for ages 11-18.  They have campouts or other events at least once a month. Obviously, good trusting relationships can be built in such an environment.

If your child would like to join at a young age, get involved in a Cub Pack (ages 5-11). Venturing Crews are high-adventure troops for young men and women ages 14-21.

 

Spend a week at Scout camp doing fun activities!

 

2. The scouting experience provides “free therapy”.

No other environment provides a place to learn therapeutic skills like Scouts BSA…without paying for expensive sessions!

Let me break that down by the 3 main “diagnostic traits” associated with autism:

Social-communication:

Scouts learn to communicate their needs to each other in order to accomplish tasks. For example, a patrol must talk and work together to solve a problem or master a challenge, like setting up a tent campsite or making a campfire recipe.

Most of the troop activities are interactive, so an autistic child will gain valuable social and communication skills. Very few (if any) therapy settings provide this level of interactive group learning to develop good social and communication skills.

Executive-Functioning:

By earning merit badges and ranks, Scouts learn to set short- and long-term achievement goals. With the help of adult leaders, they develop discipline to see those goals fulfilled.

Specific merit badges teach time management, cooking, self-care and hygiene, safety and first aid, awareness of the community, swim skills, and many, many more valuable life skills…everything that leads to greater independence, a strong work-ethic, and compassion for others.

Behavioral therapists may spend months working on ONE particular skill set, while Scouts provides the opportunities to enhance executive-functioning skills in a real-world, demonstrable setting.

Scouting also provides a setting that no office setting can possibly achieve. It allows them to also translate life skills into the real world.  That is why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth

Sensory:

The world of Scouts is a tactile world. There is a lot of hands-on activities to satisfy those who are sensory-seekers as well as those who need to develop fine and gross motor skills.

Some autistic Scouts enjoy the task of tying knots while others like the visual-spatial challenge of orienteering (which is using a compass to find hidden locations).

Being in a natural, calming environment during camp-outs is tremendously beneficial for those prone to sensory overload from other environments (especially without the distractions of electronics).

 

3. An autistic individual can learn valuable job skills.

Scouts is the perfect environment to develop both “hard” and “soft” job skills.

  • Marketing and sales? The troop sells popcorn, pizzas and snack food at festivals.

 

  • Face-to-face customer service?  The troop provides dinner fundraisers, serving guests with a smile. They also do many face-to-face community-service projects, such as collecting scrap metal and other “good neighbor” duties.

 

  • Leadership skills? They can serve in various roles, such as Patrol Leader, Troop Guide, and Quartermaster. Some are election-based and others volunteer-based.

 

  • Public speaking? Each scout learns to speak in front of the whole troops and parents during the Court of Honor ceremonies as they discuss what they learned earning their merit badges and rank advancements.

 

  • Interview skills? They promote themselves by explaining the reasons they should be elected to certain leadership positions within the troop.

 

  • Actual employment? Scouts have the opportunity to work at their local Scout camps.  My son worked as kitchen staff last summer and will again this year because they want him back so badly.  The camp director has a brother with autism and he was extremely helpful in getting my son acclimated to his job.  This was also a great opportunity to live away from home during the week to gain independent living skills. He came back a very confident, hard-working and conscientious young man.

 

Working towards the Citizenship in the Community merit badge

4. It provides many opportunities for family bonding.

Scouts provides a wonderful avenue to developing a stronger bond with one’s teenager. This is another reason why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth.

Teens who work alongside or at least witness their parents or other family members supporting them in their own interests and hobbies develop a greater relationship with them.

Here are reasons why parents are  highly encouraged to be involved in their son or daughter’s troop:

 

Scouts see their parents as a model to emulate.

When a scout sees his or her parent modeling the “Scout Motto” with others in his troop, he or she gains a deeper appreciation and respect for them. As the teen Scout matures, so does his/her family member in a leadership capacity.

Scouts work with their parents to achieve their rank advancements and merit badges.

Often a scout must complete many of the tasks required to earn badges at home.  For example, a family member can take the scout to witness a town hall meeting or help develop a food budget and menu list for the next camp-out.

Scouts work and have fun alongside their family.

Many parents and their scouts enjoy the time they spend at the weekend camp-outs together.  My husband and son loved to develop tasty meals together for campfire cooking.  Without the interference of the computer, phone or social media, they can spend quality one-on-one or group time together building memories.

 

Explore nature during fun Scouting expeditions

5. It offers a variety of thrilling adventure trips.

Scouts is unique from many other organizations—if your child loves adventure, then Scouts BSA provides! Not only does it have many council-based “reservations” (or camps) with a plethora of outdoor and indoor activities, but it also has several “high-adventure” camps throughout the country.

They also participate in many guided educational or nature-based excursions. Some even go on hiking expeditions in other countries. These are sure to boost your teen’s self-confidence!

Summer Camps:

Troops have the option to stay a week at their own council’s camp or they can go to another state. For most years our troop stayed close to home at more local camps. They were able to earn several merit badges during their time, learn valuable skills, and gain confidence being away from home.

Indian lore, photography, kayaking, swimming, cooking, movie-making, scuba-diving, and archery are just a few of the many things a scout can do at camp.

This year our troop is going to Medicine Mountain Camp in South Dakota to explore Mt. Rushmore and other surrounding sites.

Check out my article on helpful tips on getting your special needs youth ready for summer camp.

 

Guided Adventures:

Does your teen love space? Perhaps your troop can go to Space Camp for a week in Huntsville, Alabama.

Would your teen enjoy roughing it in a peaceful setting, canoeing and fishing? Then a guided tour of Holding a baby alligator during a Sea Base, Florida Keys expeditionBoundary Waters in Minnesota is the ticket.

Does your teen dream about sailing in the Caribbean? Sea Base in the Florida Keys is a Scouts BSA High-Adventure Camp that allows scouts to stay overnight on a 40-foot, multi-cabin sailboat and learn sailing skills for the week. Our troop did this, visited an alligator farm and rode a high-speed airboat through the Everglades. My son absolutely loved this experience! (And now wants to move to Florida…)

These adventurous excursions continue to grow in number each year, allowing more scouts to explore more places in the great outdoors and gain world-perspective.

 

Valuable Life Skills Learned in Scouts BSA

I truly believe that, more than any therapy or other organization, the scouting experience has shaped my autistic son into a confident young man with a valuable set of skills to lead him into a positive direction into adulthood.

He has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, one of the proudest moments in our family’s lives.

Now that Boys Scouts of America has been changed to Scouts BSA, teen girls can join troops and earn the same merit badges and ranks as the boys.

My 15-year-old autistic daughter just joined the inaugural female troop that is affiliated with my husband’s and son’s troop.

I am very excited that now teen girls get the same opportunities to experience these benefits of Scouting!

Reach high and dream big in Scouts BSA!

Being a scout will give your child the opportunities to reach high and dream big! This is, I believe, why Scouts BSA is terrific for autistic youth.

If “adventure is out there”, you will certainly find it in Scouts BSA!

 

For more information about Scouts BSA, visit the official website.