It would take five pairs of hands and feet for me to count the number of family road trips I embarked on as a child. My family and I would load up our van and drive everywhere; we explored everywhere from Florida to New York City!
Road trips, whether they be taken with family or friends, have been a staple of American culture for decades. There is an undeniable appeal for many to take the adventure and see the beautiful country sides, mountain towns, and valleys that the United States have to offer. While many families can plan a road trip with no second thought, many other families have become mindful of the sensory demands that a road trip has on their child.
Road trips come with sensory demands in many forms: visual, tactile, auditory, proprioceptive and vestibular. Road trips also bring the possibility of car sickness. Nausea can be precipitated by head motion. Car sickness, specifically, is caused by the discord within the brain’s ability to process movement with visual input. For example, your visual system says you are moving as the landscape passes by; however, your body and the proprioceptive receptors of the brain say you are sitting still. As your sensory receptors cannot find a way to process both sides of the sensory input, your body begins to have a visceral reaction, leading to nausea. Another example occurs as you are trying to read a book in the car; your eyes are stationary on the book while the fluid in your ear canals are moving as the car goes over bumps and the car accelerates/decelerates; your brain has difficulty in processing if you are moving or if you are stationary as the input it is receiving does not match up.
Worry not, though! Here are some sensory strategies to incorporate into this summer’s road trip agenda:
- If your child requires movement breaks, do not wait until you need a bathroom break to stop. Allow scheduled stops at rest areas or parks to stretch, jump and run. Though it may add time to your trip, it will be beneficial for your child as a means to regulate.
- If your child is visually sensitive, provide him with sunglasses or even an eye mask.
- Keep in mind that seatbelts can be difficult for children with tactile difficulties. Place a soft piece of cloth or invest in a seat belt cover to ease the tactile input.
- If your child is of age or weight, allow them to sit in the front seat to help ease motion sickness. Sitting in front helps to alleviate the vestibular input of bumps and hills in the road.
- Provide your child with calming or preferred music. Auditory input can be used to help “ground” your child and assist with self-regulation and even sleep.
- Set your child up for success with comfortable and preferred clothing. Be mindful of removing their outerwear, as well.
- Proprioceptive input via a weighted blanket will help to provide body awareness and grounding abilities to your child, serving as calming input.
- Provide your child with snacks and drinks as preferred. Nutrition and appetite have a great influence on your body’s ability to regulate and calm.