Traveling and flying with a child with special needs can be stressful for both the child and parent. Our 5 tips for special needs travel will help you plan your family vacation with ease.
School is almost out, and for most families, this means vacation time is just around the corner. For families of children with special needs, the very thought of traveling can be daunting – and for good reason! Schedules are disrupted, meals become unpredictable and the mere thought of sitting in a car for hours on end isn’t appealing for anyone, is it?
No matter where you are headed, the most important thing to remember is to fully understand your child and how the entire trip – from packing to unpacking – will be seen through her eyes. Although vacation “stress” is impossible to totally erase, there are things we can do to lessen the ensuing anxiety and up the enjoyment.
5 TIPS FOR SPECIAL NEEDS TRAVEL
For children who rely on routines, it is important to start speaking with them about their schedule and how the trip will affect that. Their days will be disrupted, so it is wise to speak with them about how a typical vacation day will play out. If your child usually needs down time, be sure to schedule that in, too.
2. Method of Transportation
Are you traveling by car? Be sure to map out the bathrooms along the way ahead of time (but you already knew that, right?). Provide each child with fun activities to keep them busy, as well as snacks that are healthy and car-friendly. Fruit punch, cheese doodles and blue raspberry ring pops are likely to add an unforgettable tie-dye glow to the back seat!
Are you traveling by plane? For Special Needs families, this form of travel has become incredibly difficult. Due to the screening process, you may find yourself considering a different mode of transportation. It is imperative that you discuss the screening procedures with your child ahead of time. Explain the process of removing their shoes, jackets and other items. Prepare them that their special teddy will also have to go through the scanners.
Don’t forget to check which items are and are not allowed on your flight before you purchase souvenirs. (For instance, filled snow globes are no longer allowed.) Consider taking paperwork from your child’s doctor that notes her diagnosis, as well as possibly contacting the airport for advice on traveling with a Special Needs child. (We did that a few years back, and they were helpful.) Also, consider asking to board early if your child takes extra time to settle in.
3. Waiting In Lines
Most children do not like to wait in line. Heck, most adults don’t like it, either! But for some kids, it can be difficult to “keep our place in space”. Toes of a stranger may accidently be squished, while others may have a meltdown if heat and other factors become overwhelming.
In some theme parks, it is possible to speak with Guest Services about your child’s disability. Disney, for example, has a process that will let you to obtain a card that will allow your child to wait in another area, if need be. However, this is not a “skip to the front of the line” card.
Unfortunately, many people are abusing this system, so expect skepticism when asking about this. (As much as we love the staff at Disney, this was the only time we felt like the “bad guys”. The look of annoyance on the staff member’s face when we applied for the card was hard to ignore.) Be sure to talk to your child about waiting in line before heading out the door for the day.
4. Food, Glorious Food
Meal time can be one of the most stressful parts of a vacation, especially for kids who thrive on schedules. If permissible, pack snacks for times when lunch is running late. Check out restaurants ahead of time and let your children know what may be available for them to eat. It is also a good idea to have Plan A and Plan B options in case what they want is sold out. Consider packing their favorite snacks for the hotel room so your kids will have something they can rely on later on in the day. It’s amazing how something as simple as food can make or break everyone’s mood!
5. Have Fun!
Put all expectations aside and have fun! See the trip through your child’s eyes and choose to enjoy their perspective on all of it.
For example, does your child have a special interest? Be sure to incorporate it. Are shows too loud for him to handle? Bring earplugs, but understand that it still may be too overwhelming to watch them. Does your child have difficulty with transitions? Make sure you bring some comforting items to help their day move along more smoothly.
We may not get to see everything we wished to see or ride all of the rides that we wanted to, but that’s ok. Our concept of family fun does not need to mimic that of others, does it?
We’d love to hear from you about your experiences traveling with kids, especially Special Needs kids! Also, if you have a question or two, post it below and we’ll do our best to help!
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