Lifestyle Tips

Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Children with Special Needs

Traveling with any child is a challenge. We’ve all had our share of backseat meltdowns, constant bickering, and dodging sippy cups as they launch past the front seats like miniature rocket ships. However, carting medications, equipment, and sensory tools (security or weighted blankets, stuffed animals, visual schedules, fidgets, or other items) pose their own set of complications. But don’t let the challenges of traveling with your child deter you from having an unforgettable family vacation. With the right preparations, you and your family can enjoy a visit to Disney World, another country, or even a scenic road trip.

First, let’s consider the challenges you might face:

  • Special needs accessible facilities: finding rest stops, hotels, and attractions that are adapted for your child’s specific needs.
  • Comfortable and safe traveling: your child might be a runner, escape from their seat belt, or be uncomfortable sitting in the car for long periods of time.
  • Over stimulation: theme parks and long car rides might be too much stimulation for your child
  • Traveling and flying with special requirements: some people will not understand your child’s needs or the rights you have. It can be difficult getting special items and equipment in the facility or as carry on items on the plane.

These are just a few challenges you might face, but they vary depending on each child’s distinct condition and needs.   Although traveling with children can be complicated, you can still have a fun family vacation. Below, we offer suggestions on how you can make traveling easier for you and your family.   At Enablr Therapy, we believe with a few preparations you and your family can have the vacation of a lifetime. Which is why we’re offering the following tips for traveling with your child.

Locate Accessible Facilities

While facilities are required to be accessible to everyone, they are not always prepared to meet your distinct needs. For instance, the hotel room might say “wheelchair access” but the layout might not be the best or easiest for those who use wheelchairs. Airlines offer early boarding options and claim to accommodate those with special needs, but parents have struggled to get their child’s equipment and food on the plane as well as getting more than one adult through early boarding. We suggest contacting your hotel and airport in advance to prepare them for your needs. You may ask to be assigned a specific hostess and flight attendant, so you experience less delays and stress traveling.   Calling parks or attractions in advance to see what assistance they offer is also a good idea. For example, Walt Disney World Resort offers wheelchair rentals and motorized scooters. Disney’s “rider switch” program allows you to ride an attraction while the other parent or adult stays with a child who cannot ride, then you switch with the other adult so they can ride without having to stand in line again. Disney’s “disability access service” is specifically for those who are unable to stand in line for a long time. According to Disney World Resort, they can, “accommodate most dietary needs. Advance requests can be made when booking a dining reservation, or by speaking with the chef or manager on duty at most table-service restaurants across the Resort.”

Make a Checklist

We recommend planning your trip well ahead of time and creating a detailed checklist that includes:

  • Your child’s birth certificate and picture ID
  • Medical history
  • Primary physician’s contact information
  • Current medications
  • Your child’s food if they have specific dietary needs
  • Necessary equipment
  • Goody bags
  • Any sensory tools they need: weighted blankets, vests, pillows, chewelry, stuffed animals, toys, visual schedules, fidgets and anything that is essential to them feeling safe and secure
Try Short and Small Trips First
Your child may enjoy attractions with lots of sights, smells, and sounds or they may enjoy relaxing nature walks. We suggest taking small trips close to home before you plan an elaborate vacation. For instance, you may want to visit a zoo, aquarium, water park, or nature park that is within driving distance of your home. Then try a trip that requires a few hours on the plane or in the car. This gives you a chance to learn what your child enjoys doing and what you’ll need to consider when embarking on a more adventurous vacation.   Need assistance with your local adventure or want to incorporate therapy into your field trips? Enablr Therapy is more than happy to help parents and guardians implement therapy support wherever and whenever your family needs it most
Consider Taking Another Adult Out of Town
Having more than one set of hands and eyes is never a bad idea. With the distractions that come along with traveling to a new place, you’ll want to make sure your focus is primarily on your children. Another adult can share in the demands and responsibilities of traveling, so you are well-rested and alert.   A traveling caregiver is another good idea. They can help you manage your child’s medical needs and care such as:
  • Making sure they are comfortable
  • Giving them their medication on time
  • Ensuring their dietary needs are met
  • Keeping track of equipment they need

We do suggest you choose your caregiver carefully and make sure you communicate their duties clearly because the level of care and responsibility depends on who you hire.

Keep Them Entertained

Whether it’s flying, a car ride, or hours in a hotel room, one of your biggest challenges will be keeping your children entertained. Does your child like to read? Color? Watch YouTube Kids? If so, make sure they have access to the things they love to do when they’re bored. It’s also a good idea to make goody bags, bring books to read, and have games you can play as a family like I Spy.

Take Breaks

No one likes being stuck in a car for hours. Plan to take breaks at rest stops, restaurants, or even a playground where your kids can run off some pent up energy. If it’s a particularly long trip, you may want to plan on staying the night in a hotel halfway through the trip. And why push it? The goal is to keep your child comfortable and happy. You want them to have fun and feel safe because it will make the trip enjoyable for you and them.

Make Sure Their Seat Belts are Safe and Comfortable

Children are small versions of Houdini, be sure to purchase a seat belt guard to keep them from unlatching their seatbelt in the car. If you’re flying, you can purchase a CARES Child Aviation Restraint System. According to Kids Fly Safe, “it’s ideal for children between 22 to 44 pounds who can sit in a seat but are too small for a lap belt to provide the protection and safety they need on a plane.”   For longer car rides or road trips, you may want to purchase a E-Z-On Adjustable Vest, a seatbelt that allows your child to lay down safely and legally in the backseat. To keep them from opening the chest cover on an infant or toddler car seat, you can dress them in a jacket and zip it over the chest piece.

Keeping Track of Your Children During the Trip

One of your biggest worries as a parent, especially when you are traveling, is keeping your children safe. We suggest strollers and wagons; your child can enjoy their surroundings and remain safely close to you. Another great option is giving your child a GPS tracking device like AngelSense. According to AngelSense, their device offers the following features:

  • Runner mode: updates sent every 10 seconds with your child’s location and directions to them
  • Alerts: notifications when they leave school or when they are in an unknown location
  • Voice features: 1-way voice allows you to listen to your child and 2-way voice allows you to talk to your child without them needing a phone
  • First responder alert: send a map of your child’s location to a trusted group of people

Traveling with a child takes planning and preparation, but the memories you create as a family and the experiences you will give your child will make the extra effort well worth it.

References

Walt Disney World: Services for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities

Kids Fly Safe: CARES Child Aviation Restraint System

AngelSense: GPS tracker device for kids with special needs

Enablr Therapy is an online marketplace providing high-quality and convenient therapy related services to families in need of flexibility in the Nashville, Tennessee area. Our talented network of therapists is committed to delivering mobile therapy whenever, and wherever you need it most.