Sometimes, the stress of traveling can overshadow the intent of having fun while strengthening family bonds and creating lasting memories. If you plan to travel with a child who has special needs, it is worth taking a few extra steps to reduce everyone’s anxiety.
Consider the mode of travel
All modes of travel are likely to have some special accommodations to assist passengers with disabilities. However, these policies may not suit your child’s particular needs. Before you decide whether to travel by plane, train, or bus, speak with customer service representatives to discuss their policies and your rights.
Prepare for transitions
Prepare your child for the trip by practicing what he or she can expect during travel. Talk about upcoming activities or show pictures of what adventures are to come.
Stick with familiar routines
Traveling can present a huge disruption in a child’s schedule. It is important to keep your child’s sleep and eating routines as regular as possible. According to child and adolescent psychologist Jane H. Ross, Psy.D., maintaining a consistent schedule is probably the most important factor in successfully traveling with children who have special needs. “You want to keep their diet and sleep schedule as regular as possible, and avoid fast foods and sugary snacks,” says Dr. Ross.
Take a break
To make the most of a vacation, travelers typically try to squeeze as many activities into a day as possible. However, keeping it simple and planning breaks between activities are keys to minimizing your child’s anxiety. Fun and Function LLC founder and certifi ed pediatric occupational therapist, Aviva Weiss, suggests parents preserve the moment,
while reserving time for breaks. Without doing so, even an activity like taking pictures can become over-stimulating.
Call for back-up
Get extra help by inviting a friend, family member, or caregiver along. This extra set of hands can be especially helpful when traveling with more than one child. A companion can often travel at a reduced cost, saving you money. According to Greyhound’s Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program, your attendant may be issued a 50 percent discounted ticket to travel with you.
Pack your ICE
Be sure to have your child’s medications, allergies, physicians’ contact information, and all other In Case of Emergency (ICE) information handy. Let your doctors know your plans and know theirs. If they plan to be out of the office during your trip, know who will be filling in.
With a little pre-planning, you can spend quality family time together, reconnect, relax and meet the unique needs of your child while traveling.
L’Tanya Durante is a freelance writer who enjoys traveling with her fifteen-year-old son who has ADD and her five-year-old son who was diagnosed with a mood disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD.