Traveling anywhere with family members can be difficult as there is always so much to take care of. However, when traveling with family members with sensory processing disorder issues, it can be even more challenging. It requires special planning, as you need to plan for how they will react to certain stimuli.
What is sensory processing disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that alters the way your brain processes sensory data (stimuli). Things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch are all examples of sensory information. SPD can affect all or just one of your senses. SPD typically indicates that you are hypersensitive to stimuli that other people are not. However, the condition can also have a reverse impact. It can take more stimuli to affect you in these situations.
As adults, we have conditioned ourselves to adapt to our own sensory preferences. However, someone with this disorder faces problems with this and will require your guidance to overcome it. This is why sensory processing disorder and travel don’t mesh well together and require a lot of work to overcome.
How will SPD affect travel?
SPD can affect one or all of your senses. People with SPD may have a heightened sensitivity to sounds, clothing, and textures. They could also be underreacting to sensory input. As a result of this, they need more intense adrenaline rush stimuli.
If your family member is oversensitive or extremely reactive to sensory stimulation and can find it overwhelming they may:
- Saying sounds are very loud
- Saying lights are too bright
- have trouble understanding where their body is in relation to other objects or people
- Constantly scratching their clothes as they are itchy
- Certain foods make them gag
- Are afraid to play in playgrounds
- Seem to fall down a lot or act like a klutz
If your family member is under-sensitive, which makes them want to seek out more sensory stimulation, they may:
- Not understand personal space
- High tolerance for pain
- Exhibits the need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable
- Take rash actions such as jumping off high walls or from swings
- Not be able to sit in one place for long
- Have trouble falling asleep
- Keep chewing on random objects
- Keep spinning around but won’t get dizzy
Trying to manage all of these sensory overloads while in an environment where you don’t know what’s going to happen next can be extremely challenging. The people themselves don’t know what is going on inside of or outside their bodies, so it’s up to you to take notice and help where needed.
The truth of the matter is that there is no way to completely stop or evade all sensory overloads/deprivations. However, you can take a few steps to ensure that you keep it under control.
Tips for traveling with SPD
- Always carry noise-canceling headphones with you – This can help reduce some of the stimuli around them when necessary.
- Carry food and water with you on long flights/drives – Since some people can’t eat certain foods, the easiest option is to carry foods they already like. Even chewing gum or lollipops can help calm your family member down.
- Plan ahead – Contact the location and find out if they have special accommodations for your family member’s condition.
- Try to travel long distances at night when your family member is likely to be sleeping
- Bring their favorite toys or digital devices along with you to calm them down when necessary.
Here are some places in Colorado that are sensitive to the needs of family members with Sensory Processing Disorders.