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Traveling Outside the Comfort Zone

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things" – Henry Miller

Routine is nice. Predictability and regularity gives us space to manage so much of life. Without a steady pace, it can be easy to lose a handle on your relationships, your health, your sleep, among other things.

A.I. Generated images of daily living

I spent my children's youngest years praying for routine because everything always felt chaotic. I thought if I could just keep meals, exercise, laundry, etc. at a specified time, if I could just get things routine, all of the small struggles would disappear. I needed a handle on things, and routine felt like the answer.

It took years to learn that routine with little ones is more about flexibility than timing. There was enough routine to survive it, but now that they're older we have a routine we thrive in. Turns out, our routine in infancy was seeking routine, and now it's perfecting it.

The downside of routine? Things can become stale, and things can be stifled. Our daughter's negative or troublesome behaviors peak when things are chaotic. She needs us to help regulate her, we are her barometer. This doesn't mean she can't handle new places and activities, in fact she loves a good adventure, but it means that we must be capable of maintaining a level head and good spirits on our adventures. Unfortunately, I often find myself short-tempered and irritable when in new spaces, navigating many variables. If I'm struggling to find an address or read a menu I can be bitchy when interrupted. Unfortunately. So, routine saves us those headaches on the average day.

However, keeping my mood in check comes at the expense of allowing my daughter opportunities to adventure. So, I've worked hard at being emotionally stable. This is challenging for all of us, emotional intelligence is not readily taught, but more often gleaned through living. I've learned that the better able I am to manage myself the fewer behaviors we deal with, and the better able to manage those behaviors I am.

We were recently able to take a vacation, way outside of our routine, shaking out the stagnant. This was so mind-opening for me that I have three more trips planned. Outside of what we know I learned new things, wild insight, I know. It's obvious in retrospect, and perhaps to neurotypical people, but for us, the day to day is already a whirlwind so we don't take a lot of time to consider many outside the box adventures.

Our daughter in new places showed me her skills and insight that are stifled in our routines. Vacation showed us her growth because we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere. This takeaway from our trip has changed our daily lives. I'm not flawless in execution, but I try to meander through our days with a vacation mindset. I take extra time to que her in, or to seek her insights. I don't push her through the movements assuming she'll be overwhelmed or lack understanding. Her intellectual delays in the fast-paced world often amounted, in my mind, to confusion, but I was wrong. Slowing down showed me that her mind is on a different journey, and I was undervaluing the benefits of experiencing that with her rather than tugging her along to 'catch up' with the rest of us.

There is grief that accompanies having a child with special needs. There's also confusion, overwhelm, and a myriad of other emotions. But once you move through that to acceptance, I encourage you to also work from acceptance to engagement. Engagement with their state of being, not just as a caregiver or a parent, but human being to human being. There are too many things to navigate and care about as a special needs parent. We get caught up in all the things and I'm here to remind you to check in on your relationship beyond the routine boundaries.

Where can you go? What can you play together, read together, eat together, share together that removes the usual and uncaps something new? I am telling you from experience that seeing your child's untapped awareness and insights can heal and excite the grieving or overwhelmed parent within us while expanding their world. With whatever energy and means you have, explore life outside of your usual.

Expanding mind

Need some ideas?

  • Try a local attraction's sensory friendly day

  • Host an extended family sleepover

  • Take that family vacation

  • Cooking classes

  • Read non-picture books

  • Create a daily together hour - minimize stimulation and connect

  • Explore a pet shop or animal shelter

  • Create home movies

  • Camp - in the backyard or far from home

  • Karaoke - sing terrible and loud

  • Explore a craft store and create whatever together

  • Explore boardgames/apps.

  • Exercise classes

  • Music classes

  • All abilities community choir

  • Start a band

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