Traveling with children is never easy. Matters are even more complicated when you have a special needs child because necessary accommodations don’t exist or aren’t conveniently accessible in some places. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a fantastic family vacation, though. While every child is unique and their needs will vary, we’ve put together these five broadly applicable crucial tips for traveling with your special needs child.
Do Your Research
When you have a special needs child, you can’t just walk into a new situation and hope for the best. Instead, you have to do your research about the places you’re going to visit beforehand. That might mean calling ahead to rest stops or hotels to ask if they have accessible bathrooms, elevators, ramps.
Sometimes, Google will show you how busy a business or location usually is at a given time. While this isn’t foolproof, it’s a helpful feature to take advantage of if your child finds crowds or noise overwhelming. Knowing what to expect when you arrive somewhere can decrease stress for both you and your child, so the more information you have, the better.
Researching ahead of time can also help you determine where to stay and what to see while you’re there. Most public places are legally required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, a location still might not be accessible for your child.
It’s possible that if you call a business and discover they don’t have the accommodations your child needs, the company will make changes to increase accessibility down the road. That doesn’t help you, but other parents with special needs children will appreciate it later.
Walk Your Child Through the Plan
Changes in routine and visiting new places can be anxiety-provoking for everyone involved, especially if you have a special needs child. The more information you can offer them about what to expect, the calmer they’re likely to be. Children understand more than you might think, and you already know the most effective ways to communicate with your child to account for their needs, so take advantage of that to help them feel more at ease before and during your trip.
If you’re flying somewhere, take your child to the airport before the day of the trip so they can see what it’s like. Interactive games, stories, or videos are also good options to help them get used to an airport’s sights and sounds. A pre-visit will give you a chance to scope out bathrooms and any accommodations necessary if your child has a physical disability. Some airports have quiet spaces if your child needs a break from the lights and noise.
Also, keep your child in the loop about the trip extends beyond the initial flight if you’re flying or the car ride if you’re taking a road trip.
Build Extra Time Into Your Schedule
One of the most stressful parts of traveling is trying to stay on schedule. Worry over missing flights, reservations, or hotel check-in times means you’re probably tense, and children pick up on that. You don’t want them to worry because you’re worried.
Try to build extra time into your itinerary. There’s nothing worse than having to rush. However, also be prepared to have spare time to fill if you stay on track. Games or other activities can help pass the time and prevent boredom or anxiety from waiting around.
Don’t Pack Light
When traveling, it’s tempting to limit the amount of stuff you bring. Paying for an extra bag or two at the airport can get expensive, and there’s only so much space in a car. Resist that temptation, and pack everything you can think of to help keep your child comfortable and calm.
A bit of extra luggage is worth it if it means your child has the items they need to self-soothe in a new environment. If necessary, rent a larger car or pay for a first-class ticket to give yourself and your child a bit more space.
Take a Deep Breath
You’ve probably heard horror stories about traveling with a special needs child. You may worry about finding yourself somewhere without the accommodations your child needs. Our last piece of advice is to take a deep breath.
It can be uncomfortable to be stared at when your child is struggling with their emotions. The fact that your child’s reaction is understandable given the stressors inherent to traveling doesn’t help much, and you might feel judged. It’s critical to remind yourself that you and your child have just as much of a right to exist in public spaces as anyone else.
Did you find these tips for traveling with a special needs child helpful? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our site for other helpful information.