Dear friends and family of those with high needs kids,
I thought I would take a minute and write you a little note to help you understand something that seems to be confusing. I’m writing it because the family you know may have trouble telling you this – or they may be desperately trying to make it work while you have no idea what it’s like. Here’s the thing: making the trip to see you (and stay there with you) is torture.
Not because of you, good heavens no! Because, kids.
I’m assuming you don’t have high needs kids. That’s great! Maybe you have kids who are chill when it comes to traveling. Maybe your kids are grown and gone. Maybe, just maybe, you don’t have kids, and you probably don’t realize what I’m trying to say. So I’ll be blunt. Traveling with high needs kids is hell. A very special kind of hell that you turn around and repeat just so you can go home.
Sure, not everyone has this problem. I know families who make it work just fine, despite their challenging kids. Family road trips are fun – looked forward to even! That’s not the case for my family. For my family, everything about travel is disruptive and problematic. Ever heard the term rigid? Well, if you’re talking about high needs kids, rigidity often refers to their desire – need – for a stable routine, the same foods, and the same environment. Anything different causes stress, anxiety, and meltdowns.
What’s a meltdown, you ask? It’s not a tantrum. It’s a grand mal panic attack – and it’s not something they can control. So please, don’t tell us the kids are undisciplined and need more spanking, because that’s not going to work. At all. In fact, it’s just going to tick us off because we caused the behaviors by subjecting them to this trip in the first place.
Everything about travel is a problem. Doesn’t matter if it’s a plane ride or a car ride, it’s hard. They have to sit still, be quiet, be bored for HOURS on end, and then when they finally arrive, nothing is what they’re used to. No safe space to decompress, no place to play in peace. People are everywhere – often people they really don’t know all that well, and who are dying to give hugs, tousle hair, and give kisses. Peopling is hard. Peopling when you hate being touched is impossible.
Sure, we could do the “drive at night while the kids are sleeping” trick, but you know what the problem is with that solution? We need sleep. And at some point, we need to drive back. Exhausted. Stressed out from dealing with stressed out kids. So, while theoretically a great idea, driving at night is risking the safety of those you care about. Not ideal, right?
Please don’t take this personally. We would love to see you, but not at the expense of our sanity. And frankly, we’re starting to wonder why WE are always the ones expected to come see you instead of the reverse. Do you have a car? Can you take a flight? Do you have small children who prevent you from driving like us? If not, then please, consider coming to see us instead. Come visit. Our doors are open – we would love to host you.
I know you have a job, a life, finances to consider. I get it. But so do we. On top of that, we have high needs kids who will take a month to recover from the ordeal of traveling. Making a trip like this strains the kids to their breaking point, stresses us out beyond belief, and messes with our lives afterwards trying to get back into routine. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment kind of trip for us.
Chances are, we’ll make the hard choice to stay home. To further alienate ourselves from family and friends, from the village we so desperately need but cannot create. We love you. We would love to spend time with you. But not at the expense of our kids.
Sooner or later the kids will outgrow this phase and we’ll be able to travel a little more easily. We know this. But that means you miss out on a whole chunk of time with them. You won’t even recognize them. And they won’t remember who you are past a random name on a card. I know that’s not what you want.
So I’m asking you to make a few sacrifices. To put the kids’ needs above your own. To save a little money at a time until you can make the trip. And if you really don’t care – and don’t want to – that’s a relief to know before we try to kill ourselves to come visit you.
I’m probably going to tick some people off with this, and I’m sorry if that’s the case. It’s a hard thing to say. It’s a hard thing to hear. And that’s probably why those people you love haven’t even said anything to you about it. Because they don’t want to hurt you. They don’t want you to know how much they’re struggling. So I’ll say it for them – for all of us with high needs kids: come visit.
We would love to see you.
I wish upon everything I hold dear that I had the courage to share this with my family and my in-laws. Good grief this is SPOT ON, wow! Everything we feel and think and wish we could say. Instead we get so much upset that we aren’t doing more for them and how horribly we disappoint them and make them feel unloved… all while we are desperately clinging to our sanity each day. Thank you for putting into words the thoughts in my/DHs head!
Thank you for reading – I’m so glad our struggle is relatable, but I wish you didn’t have the same struggle to deal with! Best wishes!
My son is the same way. He’s older now (15) but it’s still a problem. The only time he does well is if we go on vacation with close family (my parents) or if it’s just us two. We have done several cruises which have gone well because we can go back to our cabin and chill out if we/he needs to and they go back to theirs. It’s the same people/places on the ship every day and we can choose excursions ahead of time to prepare for them. He loves cruising. We do a family camping trip every year and it’s the same people – he looks forward to that too. He gets his own tent to de-stress if he needs to. Plus we plan it so far in advance he knows what’s coming. BUT he hates going to my parents and staying or any family for that matter. My boyfriend has family up north that we have gone collectively to once because my son just doesn’t do well. It’s like what you say – strangers he doesn’t know expecting him to act a certain way. The one time I took him he hid in a room the whole time. I still hear about it from my boyfriend (and my son) – he doesn’t understand why my son is the way he is and never will. What’s been difficult too is my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age eight but we recently found out he is gifted. So until eight everyone thought I didn’t know how to parent (they still don’t) and now they don’t believe he is highly intelligent so is treated as such and I’ve had to fight like crazy with the school to get him in the classes he needs to be. He is so bored otherwise. And lonely as he has nobody to relate to and was even in special ed for two years for his communication skills – horrible mistake.
He still has the autism diagnosis but I don’t think he has autism – from what I have been reading about gifted kids – autism and giftedness can look very similar. The strict routines and sensitivities among other things. There has always been something different about him but I was never convinced it was aspergers but it’s what seemed to fit.
It’s so tough, isn’t it! And even as an adult, I still need that alone time to regroup. Your son sounds like an awesome kid 🙂
I totally understand what you’re saying. Know the irony? My in-laws came to visit for THREE weeks recently and my kid had more trouble with them being in her space than if she had gone to visit them! Poor kid’s schedule/routine was disrupted terribly (think overly enthusiastic guests who feel your kid should do “normal” kid things). Trapped together for so long rattled her such that trying to get her back on track has been a bear! I guess the moral to the story is, every kid is different.