by Lisa Rozanski
PUBLICATION DATE: January 21, 2020

Our son Eli is a six-year-old, special needs boy that is nonverbal. He can become very anxious with new routines, slowing down when already in motion, and waiting. We’ve always wanted to take him on a family vacation, but were always reluctant due to his sensory issues.
This year we wanted nothing more than to take him on a family vacation over Christmas break. Because of Eli’s anxiousness we have always been hesitant to take a family vacation that involved air travel or lengthy car rides.
As fortune would have it, this year we were invited by dear friends Dana and Tom Devers to come to their home in Florida. Dana confidently said, “We can make this work!” so we decided to give it a try and purchased our plane tickets!
I started my research, reached out to my support groups, and spoke to Eli’s teachers at his school “Capable Kids.” His teachers gave me what is called a “Social Story.” It’s a booklet of pictures of everything regarding our upcoming trip; from the moment we leave the house in Ohio until the time we land in Florida and how he is to behave. We went over this for the next two weeks before our trip.
When we mentioned Eli’s big adventure and that it involved flying, he would get very anxious. After two weeks of going over the social story he started to get very excited instead.
My friend Dana sent me pictures of everything in the house and even included their dog and their neighbors. Additionally, she didn’t stop there, as she bought him a “Thomas the Train” blanket for his bed and a “Thomas the Train” toy to play with. She also cleared the extra decorative clutter out of his room.
Tom was waiting for us at the airport, so Eli would not have to wait. One thing that was of great help was to use my “Instacart” membership. This is a service that delivers groceries. We sent groceries to Dana and Tom’s house the day before our arrival. With Eli’s diet restrictions this made it very easy to have all of his special foods there waiting for him. I also contacted TSA to see if there were any special accommodations they offered. TSA was more than accommodating, even taking us to the front of the line so as to avoid waiting.
On the second day we decided to explore by going out for breakfast. After about 10 minutes of calming Eli down, he realized he was there to eat and not at yet another doctor’s appointment. This made it very easy the second time we went there later that week knowing what to expect.
The third day we reluctantly ventured to the beach. Eli had only been one other time in his life, so we knew this was going to be a “new thing.” I showed him some pictures and talked to him all day about us going to the beach.
Later that day, we packed a picnic and headed out. When we arrived, he was a little anxious, but after a few minutes he got very excited and went on a walk on the beach with daddy. I immediately looked at my friends and started to cry tears of joy. I thanked them for their patience and hospitality. Heading home, we encountered a lot of beach traffic. It was a difficult drive home for Eli because it was a lot of stop and go, which usually makes him very anxious. This resulted in the whole car singing “The Wheels on the Bus” song helping to calm Eli.
Once home, we ordered some pizza and all was well in the world again.
We’re happy to report that the trip home went just as smoothly if not better than the trip there.
The whole trip went smoothly and Eli was truly able to enjoy a real vacation – with his mom and dad; watching his favorite shows, having iPad time, and swimming all day long. His happiness gave us happiness, and some relief and relaxation with great friends.
It showed us that with amazing support of family and friends, researching a lot and loads of faith, parents of a special needs child can have an amazing family vacation.