Susan Walton's son has autism. He was diagnosed at age 2, when she was pregnant with twins. Spontaneity, she learned, would quickly become a thing of the past, as predictability and routine became of the utmost importance.
But the mom of three was determined to keep her family's life filled with joy.
"The biggest mistake we can make is to put family fun at a low priority," she writes in her new book, "Coloring Outside Autism's Lines: 50 Activities, Adventures and Celebrations for Families with Children with Autism" (Sourcebooks, $14.99). "It is easy to be consumed by the role autism forces us to play. We are caretakers, therapists, nutritionists, nurses, taxi drivers and so much more.
"But for the sake of your child and your family, having fun needs to form a central part of any intervention and therapy you pursue."
Five tips from Walton's book:
*Before visiting any family destination, call ahead and inquire about special needs passes, something Walton says many places have but don't advertise. "A special needs pass can help you avoid long lines, loud antechambers or restrictive rules that would inhibit your ability to have a relaxing day."
*Install an indoor swing, which offers many sensory benefits. A hammock can work, too.
*Approach swimming pools, gymnasiums, bounce-house centers and other businesses about holding regular events for special-needs families. "One parent visiting a location with a child who has unique needs is a single customer," Walton writes. "But a group of families together looking for recreation for their families is a more powerful entity."
*Have a seat. "Try making a visit to some coin-operated massage chairs; they often have these at the local mall."
*Know your gluten-free and casein-free restaurant options. Walton recommends these national chains: Boston Market, Chili's, Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang's and Subway. (Check with your local restaurant to verify its menu.)