With the school break coming up fast, many families are preparing to travel. When you have a child with special needs, or even a child who struggles with transitions, you know there’s more to consider than just packing clothes for everyone. We connected with child development professional, Bev Legare, about the best tips for traveling with a child who has special needs. Bev has spent hours and hours with families helping them plan their family travels and vacations.
Here are the best travel tips she has learned along the way:
Booking your trip:
- Consider the best time of day to travel. Try to book flights when your child is generally most relaxed and able to handle a change in routine.
- Stopover or direct flight? Consider a stopover if it’s a long flight; this may be particularly helpful if your child has difficulty sitting for a long time. For shorter flights, direct might be easier with less disruptions, waiting and transitions.
- Book your seats ahead of the flight. Aisle seats may be too busy, and your child may get bumped by a cart. A window seat may give your child a feeling of being claustrophobic… You know your child best.
- Plan to check in to your flight from home to reduce your wait time at the airport.
- Accommodations: If your child has sensory issues, smaller, low-rise hotel properties tend to be quieter. Request a room at the end of the hallway, away from an elevator where there is typically less noise in the hallway. Another option is to rent a house which can give you the comforts of home plus a quiet private space where you can control your environment more easily than a hotel.
Prepare your child for the trip:
- Provide visuals: story books, photo albums, schedules and maps will help your child understand where you are going and who you will see. Any type of visual support can help reduce anxiety and increase your child’s interest.
- Write a social story about the trip: This helps a child understand what to expect. Many children with special needs struggle with uncertainty, which often leads to inappropriate behavior.
- Practice and role-play before the trip, especially if flying is new for your child. There are books about flying that can help, such as “The Noisy Airplane Ride” by Mike Downs and “Going on a Plane” by Anne Civardi.
- Have a back-up plan in case of a missed connection or flight delay. For example, have a social story ready about what a delay is and what may happen next.
- Ask for a letter from your health care provider identifying the need for accommodations. This can be very helpful if you need to ask for special accommodations on a plane or in a hotel.
- If your child is a wanderer, consider purchasing a child tracking device. In case your child becomes lost, bring a recent photo and a written description of your child’s special needs. Include information such as whether your child runs from strangers or usually responds to their name.
- If going on a car trip, and your child tends to undo their seatbelt, consider getting covers for the seatbelt buckles. Remember to switch on the child locks for the rear doors so the doors cannot be opened from the inside.
Things to pack:
- Your child’s medications. Bring extra just in case. Keep medications in their original packaging.
- Charging cords and extra batteries for assistive devices. If traveling out of country, check whether you’ll need to bring adaptor plugs.
- Sensory toolkit to prevent sensory meltdowns. Include your child’s favorite items from home and a few new items to discover.
- Snacks! Bring your child’s favourite (and familiar) snacks and treats.
- Be sure to bring some well-liked toys, favorite videos, storybooks and music!
While there, do your best to maintain your child’s daily routines and be sure to plan plenty of down-time.
These are great tips for all families! Children (and even adults) do better when they feel well prepared and supported when traveling. Do you have any more tips to share when traveling with a child who has special needs? We’d love to hear them!
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For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.