I hope that this article can be uplifting and useful to many families. I want to start off by introducing myself and my website, The Playful Parent. My name is Kristy Charnock and I started a free resource page for families that encourages learning through play and support to families in Southern Maryland. The Playful Parent provides a detailed calendar full of fun things happening locally and you will also find detailed articles on places to adventure to, tips on parenting, monthly giveaways, and more. As a licensed professional counselor and a parent of two energetic boys (one whom has sensory processing challenges), I understand the joys and difficulties that parents face day to day. I’m a strong advocate of unplugging from the world and finding ways to have fun. It’s so important for children to have opportunities to play because it is how they learn and grow.
One challenge that I know many parents face is going out to do new and different things with their exceptional children. Our exceptional children may have needs like my son with sensory processing difficulties, or they may have more challenging needs in the form of a physical or developmental disability. Simple tasks like running errands or going on outings with a child on the autism spectrum may result in tears (yours or theirs). Going out in public can be a huge gamble because the outcome is unpredictable. Will it go well or will it be the worst idea ever? To avoid a meltdown here are a few encouraging words and tips for making exploring the world a little easier…
- Rule number one! Don’t worry about what other people think or say about your parenting skills or child’s behavior. Getting out of the house to complete a task or do something fun is about your family and what’s best for your child. You have just as much of a right to be somewhere with your child as anyone else. Know that you are a great parent and are doing an amazing job by providing your little one with interesting and engaging things to do.
- You are not alone! Being a parent of a child with abilities feels challenging and lonely at times, seeking out other families with similar experiences can be a really useful tool. Other moms and dads can offer good advice, and you may even become close friends. By going places with like minded parents you are more likely to feel supported and embraced. After all it takes a village!
- Explain tasks and set up expectations with your child. Before going somewhere, be sure to share what is on the agenda. Offer clear boundaries and expectations for the outing. One thing that I find works for errands is to give tasks; most children like to be helpful. Try printing a small list with pictures of 3-5 items you will be looking for and only go out for those things. Once short basic runs to the grocery store become familiar and easier you can go for longer periods of time and to get more than just quick list essentials.
- Become familiar with a favorite spot.Try going to the same place weekly, make it your special spot. Get to know the staff; over time they will know your family, form a relationship,and know how to meet your family’s needs.
- Keep the pace going! Time management is very important. If you are going somewhere new keep a time limit. If you know you are visiting a museum or zoo that will take hours to explore pick your child’s favorite animals or exhibits of interest. This way if they decide they are done than you can leave after seeing a few favorites. Remember that going somewhere new can be difficult and hold realistic expectations that you may not spend much time there the first few times you visit. Pat yourself and your child on the back for any time they spend in the new place. That is a victory!
- Keep down sensory input! Finding ways to limit the sensory overload is huge. Keeping noise down could mean picking a quieter spot or using noise canceling ear head phones or ear plugs at louder places. If eating out remove extra things like napkin holders and menus from the table so there are fewer items on table.If you know your child is overwhelmed by noise or crowds pick places that are less stimulating like the library.
- Find the right match! Be on the lookout for things that are good matches for your child’s interest. Use resources to learn more about the adventure in advance so you know what to prepare for. By taking them to an event or location that is their interest they are more likely to be excited and engaged.If you go to a restaurant you’re familiar with, consider printing out pictures of two or three menu items you know they might like and present the pictures as choices for them at the restaurant so they can more easily process and make a choice.
The Playful Parent’s top recommended places-
La Plata Chick-fil-a: I encourage this restaurant because you can use the phone app to pre-order food and have it delivered to your table so that you don’t have to wait in line. The staff is friendly and ready to help you if you should anything. http://www.cfarestaurant.com/laplata/home
Waldorf AMC Theater Sensory Friendly Films: Did you know that AMC has partnered with the Autism Society of America to provide unique movie showings where the lights are turned up, and the sound turned down, so the audience can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing! https://www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films
Laurel Spring Special Playground for All: This park includes a playground with emphasis on special needs play, two small picnic pavilions, and several informal areas with picnic tables. This is a great place to meet other families with exceptional children and provide your child with a safe and healthy environment to learn and experience play. https://www.charlescountyparks.com/parks/laurel-springs-park
Charles County Library Imaginative Play- Waldorf West Branch: The Waldorf West library offers imaginative play session in which children get to take part in an interactive play session. The library provides educational toys, all you have to do is bring your child and provide the imagination! Look on the Charles County Public Library calendar for dates and times. https://ccplonline.org/programs/childrens
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