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How to Vacation with a Special Needs Child

How to Vacation with a Special Needs Child
How to Vacation with a Special Needs Child
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Marwa Sati is a speech-language pathologist and an educational psychologist. She has over 20 years experience in working with children and their... more

Although traveling with a special needs child can be difficult, families should try to take time off and enjoy being on vacation with their special needs child. Taking a vacation will help your child see different places and learn new things, communicate with new people and engage in new activities and, experiences that he/she wouldn’t be exposed to while at home. When you decide to go on a vacation whether it is a short or a long one, be sure to always prepare for the trip in order to minimize the stress of being in an unfamiliar place. It is important to note that while choosing your destination, you gather all the information you need from experts, parents of special needs children and travel agents who can help you make your reservations according to your needs. When choosing a destination, the internet will be helpful based on comments and rating on experiences from other families with children with special needs.

Airplanes and Flying: It is essential that you prepare your child for the flight. This can be done by using pictures of inside the airport and the airplane to familiarize your child. While at the airport or on the airplane you should also be well prepared for the trip; use gadgets such as headsets, iPad and toys of preference.

Accommodation: Many hotels and resorts are becoming more understanding of the needs of special needs guests. Therefore, resorting to the internet will help you find the most suitable place for your family. Some vacation accommodations are now often offering gluten and casein free foods and menus. They are also offering different activities in addition to equipment such as wheelchairs. It is also helpful to seek the advice of parents of children with special needs to help you prepare for the trip.

Destination and Roaming around: You can choose your destination based on the needs and interests of your child. It is important to check what the place you choose can offer and the activities that are appropriate for your child depending on their physical ability, needs, preferences and general ability. For example, some children may benefit and enjoy a visually stimulating destination such as a theme park, others may like a calmer environment such a beach destination or even a swimming pool. After choosing the destination, it is important to take the appropriate measures to prepare your child for the trip. This of course will depend on the age of your child and his/her ability to communicate with you. You can use a visual schedule (pictures) with a non-verbal child to explain where you are going and the activities that your child can participate in. You can also use the same visual schedule with your verbal child to illustrate what the place looks like and what they can do while there. Watching videos available about the place you are going is another great way to make your child understand what they can do while there. It is also important that you provide details about the vacation once the plans are made and keep the discussion going until you go. Once you arrive at your hotel take your child on a tour of the place to avoid/reduce anxiety. Be sure to settle in your room first and make your child feel as comfortable before exploring the site.

Recommendations: The following recommendations can help you plan your family vacation:

  • Plan the route you are taking before you leave home if you are intending to travel by car and always make sure you have a full tank of gas.
  • Have GPS in the car to help you locate rest houses and places on the road to take breaks. These breaks will help keep your child calm and engaged.
  • Take books, toys, gadgets or other preferred material which your child can enjoy during the trip and vacation.
  • When you have a group of kids or siblings sitting in the back seat, make sure you have enough space to keep the children from being crowded with travel or bags or items. Be sure to keep your travel items and belongings in the trunk.
  • No matter how you are traveling, be sure to dress the children comfortably in layers according to weather conditions.
  • Charge whatever gadgets you have with you completely in case there are no electric plugs around and be sure to pack your charger with you.
  • Make a list of your requests and needs once you make your reservation at the hotel or resort. Be sure to request anything you will be needing during the vacation be it a refrigerator to store medicine or food, a shower seat, disposable cups or a room on the ground floor if your child is on a wheelchair or his/her disability impedes his/her mobility.

Families with special needs children often advise families to be patient especially during travel and vacation. Traveling will get easier with every trip because you will learn the routine and learn how to deal with your child’s behavior during the vacation. Your first big trip may be difficult but the more you travel, the better you get at it, and the more fun it will be. Traveling with a special needs child is just like traveling with any other child; it takes a lot of planning and organization. But, the benefits will far outweigh the work. The more accustomed your children become to traveling, the better travelers they become.


Reference: The Child with Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth by Stanley I. Greenspan, Serena Wieder, and Robin Simons


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