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Top : Holidays : Holiday Traveling with a child who has special needs

Holiday Traveling with a child who has special needs

~ Lisa Simmons

The holidays are fast approaching and so is the holiday travel season. Maybe your plans include a holiday visit with extended family members or maybe just a family get-away while the kids are on school break. Either way, you'll want to start planning now. Traveling with a special needs child can be wonderful for everyone, but it's definitely not a spur of the moment activity.

Here are some tips to help make your trip a true success!

  1. Be brave!

    Many families with special needs kids are just plain scared of trips away from home. The thought of trying to do sensitive medical procedures "on the road" or deal with behavioral outbursts in front of a crowd is simply too overwhelming too contemplate. Unless your doctor or specialist has specifically ruled out travel, don't let your fears take over! Everyone needs to get away once and awhile. A little planning and preparation can put many of your fears to rest.

  2. Planning is everything!

    Map out your trip and select destinations and rest stops that can accommodate you and your child's needs. If you are planning a trip by car this will mean checking accessibility at your final destination as well as any places you'll be stopping or staying en route. If you're not sure what type of questions to ask, try the Accessibility Checklist at: 07access3.html

    In addition to getting in the door safely, you'll also want to consider what items you'll need for bedtime, bath time, and mealtimes. By calling ahead you can bring along anything that your destinations simply don't have available. If any of your destinations seems totally unable to meet your needs don't be shy about asking for other recommendations in the area. Maybe the knowledge that they lost a potential customer will inspire them to improve their accessibility.

    Another part of planning and preparation may be preparing your child. If your child doesn't respond well to changes in their daily routine, a little planning and preparation before and will be time well spent and make your journey much more fun. One way to accomplish this preparation is through a Social Story. The first page could be a calendar with pictures on each day to depict where you will be that day. Subsequent pages would offer more information about each day's activity in simple words and pictures. By going through the story with your child as many times as they need to get comfortable with it, you help them to get comfortable with the trip process and destination.

  3. Consult with your child's physician.

    Ask for recommendations, tips, and a special "travel pack" with items you may need in case of an emergency. You travel pack might include items like:

    • A list of any prescription drugs your child is taking and a copy of the prescription (just in case)
    • A physician's description letter of your child's condition and needs in case of an emergency
    • Phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and/or pager numbers of your home physicians/specialists.
    • Recommendations for physicians and specialists in the area you're visiting.
    • Health insurance cards and phone numbers (be sure you've reviewed your insurance policy before you leave - many require prior approval before out of town emergency room or doctor's visits)
    • Phone numbers of any necessary medical supply company

  4. Pack more than you need of the special items your child requires.

    Remember that old saying "better safe than sorry"? Well it goes double when you're traveling. Everyone is bound to be a little off schedule and out of sorts. Don't set yourself up for problems by running out of a critical item. It is always better to have too much rather than too little. Plus with a few extras on hand you won't be rattled when a well-meaning family member accidentally drops or spills precious medicine!

  5. Make a small checklist of items that CANNOT be left behind.

    If your special needs child has favorite toys, security items or essential medical items -- you don't want to discover them "missing" half way home. Make a list as you pack of all essential items and double check it before you leave each stop of your journey.

  6. Find a mode of transportation that meets your specific needs.

    If your goal is to make your trip as stress free as possible, this can be a critical choice.

    • Is your destination close enough to travel by car?
    • Would air or train travel put you too far from emergency medical personnel for an extended period?
    • Does your child require specialized seating support?
    • What type of travel works best with their seating system?

    If you're working with a travel agent be sure to ask about special guidelines or requirement for passengers with disabilities. An excellent resource of detailed information about the logistics of planning accessible travel by plane, train, bus and ship is Barrier-Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers by Candy Harrington.

    For questions specific to the airline industry you can also call the new toll-free aviation consumer disability hotline at 1-866-266-1368 (voice) and 1-866-754-4368 (TTY). The hotline can provide information and assistance for disability-related air service problems.

  7. Don't Be Shy

    During your travels you're bound to run into individuals who don't know what to do or how to react to an individual with special needs. As diplomatically as you can, let people know what you need and expect them to make accommodations for your child's special needs. Most people will be more than happy to help. If they offer you a room or seating accommodation that just won't work, politely decline and explain again what you need and why. Look at this as your opportunity to do your part for disability awareness!

  8. Remember it's a "family" trip.

    If it's your first trip away from home, you will naturally be concerned about how your special needs child is getting along. That's to be expected. But don't forget your other family members! Be sure you offer some quality time and attention to your other kids as well. Use time while your special needs child is napping or occupied with a favorite toy to chat with older kids and reconnect. They will thank you by having a much more cooperative and supportive attitude during the times when your attention has to be focused on your child with special needs.

  9. Plan a day of rest.

    Even the most experienced travelers experience jet lag and it's not just confined to air travel! Expect both your kids and your own body to need some down time when you arrive at your destination and again when you arrive home. Make sure to allow a day for rest & recovery before you dive back into your hectic routine.

  10. Don't expect perfection your first time out.

    Traveling, like everything else, is an acquired skill. If you're first trip doesn't turn out perfectly, don't give up! Sit down (after you've rested) and analyze what went wrong.

    • How could you have prepared differently or more effectively?
    • What did you wish you had that didn't get packed?
    • What did you need inside the car or airplane that was stowed away with the luggage?
    • Which of your destinations or stopovers worked well?
    • Which ones just need to be crossed off your list?

    Chances are if your trip was to visit family you'll be traveling that road again. Time spent establishing relationships along the road can be time well invested! Just remember, every trip is a learning experience for you and a precious family memory for you children! It will make all the little hassles seem worthwhile. Safe travels!

2005 Lisa Simmons. Lisa is the director of the Ideal Lives Project, "Connecting Advocates with Answers" at, a web site that provides information on advocacy and inclusion written specifically for parents. Subscribe to her free E-zine, The Ideal Lives Express, for more great tips like these and empower yourself at:

Submitted on : 1-Oct-2005

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Top : Holidays : Holiday Traveling with a child who has special needs

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