For parents with special needs children, a vacation is an excellent opportunity for their family to experience joy together while creating positive associations and fun family memories, which can help them get through stressful times. Traveling also offers opportunities for special needs children to practice and improve social and communication skills while simultaneously promoting their cognitive growth.
However, families with special needs children may avoid traveling due to the many challenges that could arise along their journey. Navigating provisions and accessibility for hotel accommodations, attractions, and modes of transportation can be a daunting task for special needs parents. The following tips provided by the experts at The Warren Center can help special needs parents overcome challenges associated with traveling:
Create a travel kit
- Pack a lunchbox with a few of your child’s favorite foods, so hunger doesn’t add to the stress of traveling. Also, pack your child’s favorite toy, book, or tablet to help keep your child entertained.
Air travel tips
- Let the airline know you are traveling with a special needs child and try to book a seat together near the front of the plane or near the bathroom.
- Introduce your child to flying by reading books about airports and airplanes, watching videos, or planning a visit to an airport to get them more familiar with the process. Some airports have created mock flights or may allow families to do a walkthrough or practice airport situation before the big travel day.
- The TSA has a helpline for individuals with special needs called TSA Cares. Travelers may call 1-855-787-2227 before traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition, or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA. TSA recommends that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary.
Traveling by car
- Sit in the backseat with your child to limit distractions to the driver and create closer access to your child if they need assistance or want to be entertained.
- Plan for frequent stops to restock snacks, take bathroom breaks, and reduce crankiness from lack of exercise.
- Try shorter road trips first to help your child get acclimated to road trips. Practice by taking short 3-hour road trips before driving across the country.
- To keep your child safe and secure in the car, consider putting covers on the buckles in the backseat, and keep the child lock on so that the rear doors cannot be opened from the inside. Also, make sure your child is safely secured in their car seat and that it is installed correctly. You can make the car seat more comfortable by adding a layer of quilt batting underneath the seat cover.
- Some hotels may provide equipment such as shower chairs or hospital beds, but you must call and speak to the hotel manager in advance of your trip. You can also rent equipment locally during your stay.
- Most major hotel chains offer wheelchair-accessible rooms with accessible bathrooms, but they must be reserved in advance. Families who enjoy camping may buy or rent an extra-large tent for wheelchair accessibility.