Car Travel Tips for Children with Autism




Shannon: Welcome back to Skills Live, I'm Shannon Penrod and we are here in the studio with Evelyn Gould, BCBA. She's been talking with us about some of the things we can be mindful of. You guys have mentioned last week in one of the questions we asked you about, "What are the things that are day to day stress for you?" And many of you wrote in, the routine in the morning, especially on school mornings, that sometimes your kids are't understanding and how stressful it can be. So we've been taking bout that and right before we went to break, you brought up the whole thing of getting out of the car. Car is a whole other subject, isn't it?

Evelyn: Yeah, for some people they're lucky in that their child doesn't have issues with the car, in fact, a lot of kids I've worked with have really enjoyed the car. But some even to the extent that they don't want to get out of the car, but generally a lot of the time, some kids do have problems getting in and out of the car for school so, yeah. It could be a big problem.

Shannon: Yeah and there are so many different aspects to it. And again, we have to say that, for each of you, your circumstances are different. How many different types of cars are there? How many different types of car seats? The age of your child.

Evelyn: There's so many different difficulties that could be going on there. I just mentioned one issue where I had a child who wanted to bring toys in the car and then wanted to take them to school and how that created problems. But Shannon then was just telling me in the break about the troubles that she had with Jim, and he was younger, and her problem was getting him into the car, and getting him into the car seat and then getting him out of the car.

Shannon: Yeah, it was a nightmare.

Evelyn: It could be many different things going on.

Shannon: I was saying to her during the break that I remember at one point saying to somebody, "Oh it's just so difficult. It's just such a difficult thing to get him in the car, to get him out of the car." And somebody who had older kids that were neuro-typical, said to me, "I just don't really understand what the problem is." Which really was not helpful. And I'm saying, "Really? You really don't know what the problem is? Why don't you come and watch me try to put a 45 pound child into the middle of a fairly small car, into a gigantic car seat, and get a 5 point harness strapped on him while he's pulling my hair, kicking me and hitting me on the head. Come on down, and then you can share with me that you don't think that this is any kind of a problem." It was a really, really big frustration. And I have to say that I got defensive about it, too, because anytime somebody was like, "That just don't seem that big of a deal to me." Not helpful to me.

Evelyn: No, not helpful at all. And Shannon, I know I've said this before but if you're ever finding yourself in a circumstance where you're struggling with your child and physically manhandling them, then there's a problem. Even if it's a slight manhandle, it's like, that should not be happening, and it doesn't have to have happen. And at that point that's when you need help. That is a problem. It shouldn't be that way.

Shannon: Right and ultimately can I just say, since you brought that up, what I did do was ask for help here at CARD and said, "This is a problem on a regular basis," and SOS came in to work on it with us, and they were able to work on it in a very quick way and that no longer was an issue. He was all very happy to get into his car seat. And after that he strapped himself into his car seat. My back thanked me in so many different ways, because that was part of the problem, too, was that my back was killing me dealing with this.

Evelyn: The physical and the emotional side of things, because you're having to go through that. You're dealing with that very emotionally, distressed, frustrated child and parent. And it's not fun for anybody. It's not. It's just a horrible situation for you to be in.

Shannon: Yeah it is and nobody has to go through that for themselves. But we were talking about school and the morning routine and the whole idea. And anybody who has taken a child to school, you see that is not just the children on a spectrum. There is an ordeal that happens when the car pulls up to the carpool lane, and I see it on a daily basis, whether it's kids getting into car, or kids getting out of the car, there are people...The line goes quite a way, especially in this economy where there's fewer and fewer buses dropping kids off. Parents are having to take them and parents, even though they know in a second it's going to be their turn, and their child is going to take a long time, and they're going to be frazzled by people honking, people still get impatient, and there's people yelling things out of windows sometimes, which adds to all of it. But getting the child in and getting the child out, it's part of the morning stress. It's a terrible way to say to our kids, "Go, learn, be happy. We'll see you in a couple of hours." Right? It's a rough start to a morning. But there are things that we can think about, that can help us to make it less stressful, yes?

Evelyn: Yeah, for sure. First of all you need to figure out exactly what the problems are and that might first involve breaking down, ideally, what the routine of getting in and out of the car would be, so you know exactly what the steps are and then figuring out where along that line of steps is your problem.

Shannon: And I love the fact that you said "problems," because sometimes it's more than one thing.

Evelyn: Yeah, so you may have multiple problems you need to deal with, but you may also find that if you can fix the first step in the chain where it's starting to go wrong, then the other things may not be a problem.

Shannon: Right. Sometimes that fixes it all, but other times it maybe two or three things that you have to fix and then chain them all together, maybe even practice at home.

Evelyn: Yes, you may, depending what it is, it may require a lot of contrived practice. Shannon has also talked about her times where the SOS or whoever was recommending you need to practice and pretend that you're going through the routine before you actually undertook the real thing. And it may be that. If your child is having a difficulty with sitting in a car seat, for example, that may be like SOS or someone coming in and requiring the child practice, to work on being okay with sitting on the car seat not in the car initially. Some kids just can't deal with straps, they just can't. They feel stuck or whatever it is, and they just can't deal with straps. And so we had to work very, very slowly up towards them having straps around them. We may have even started with just having a piece of cloth over their shoulders or whatever it is, breaking it right down into small, teachable goals, and building up to the real thing. It really does depend on whatever your child is struggling with as to how you're going approach it.

Shannon: And I just want to add that for SOS, there were lots of different things that we worked on, but one of the things that really strikes me now is that we worked on what I was doing to be prepared. And I always joke about that what I said, "Where is my purse in the scenario?" And for a while I wore a fanny pack, but then I graduated up back to my purse, but there was a whole thing with that, I had to put the purse in the car first and that I needed to know where my keys were. So I got a little hook for my keys that I still have to this day, that I can hook my keys onto my purse, so that I know where they are. Because at one point my keys got kicked underneath the car. Now I'm missing keys and I've got a child who's screaming. So SOS helped me to get a routine for myself that I put the purse in, I hooked the keys on, and then I had two hands to deal with him. But then they also worked on a routine for him. We brought the car seat into the clinic and we worked on reinforcing him for getting into the car seat and hooking it up himself.

Evelyn: I was actually going to just mention that whole idea of looking at what you're doing and what you can control. And it may be little environmental manipulations that you can do, like for the one child we talked about earlier, he transitioned to and from the car much better, when we just removed the boxes from the hallway. So he couldn't take anything into the car, those types of things. And then looking at, like Shannon's talking about, what you're actually doing with your own stuff and what you can change with that to make it easier. All those things are really important.

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