Most parents know that successful family traveling takes planning. Traveling with a special needs child takes even more preparation, but is sure to create wonderful memories for everyone. Set yourself up for success and take some practice runs to build up to that. For families whose travel needs are extra special, we hope that this blog post will help you.
Unless the doctor or specialist has specifically ruled out travel, don’t let your fears take over. We all know that the thought of trying to do sensitive medical procedures on the road or deal with outbursts in front of crowds can be too overwhelming to contemplate, but everyone needs to get away once in awhile. A little planning and preparation can put many of your fears to rest.
Planning is Everything
Map out your trip and select destinations and rest stops that can accommodate your child’s needs. Consider items needed for bedtime, bath time and mealtimes, and call ahead to know what the place you’re staying at has or doesn’t have. If something doesn’t meet your needs, don’t be shy to ask for recommendations in the area.
Consult with your Child’s Physician
Ask for recommendations, tips and a special “travel pack” with items you may need in case of an emergency. Bring a photocopy of your child’s health binder:
- List of prescription drugs and a copy of each prescription;
- Physician’s description letter of your child’s condition and needs in case of an emergency;
- Phone numbers and/or email addresses of your home physicians or specialists;
- Health insurance cards and phone numbers (don’t forget to review your insurance policy before leaving because many require approval before out of town emergency room or doctor’s visit);
- Phone of any necessary medical supply company.
“Better be safe than sorry”. Everything goes double when traveling, and you can avoid problems of running out of critical items. Bring more than you need of the special items your child requires.
Keep Track of Personal Essentials
As you pack, make a checklist of all essential items (favorite toys, security items, or essential medical items) and double check it before leaving each stop of your journey.
Find Transportation to Meet Specific Needs
If your goal is to make your trip as stress-free as possible, this can be a critical choice. If you’re working with a travel agent, ask about special guidelines or requirement for passengers with disabilities. It’s helpful to have information about planning accessible travel whether by plane, train, bus or ship.
Don’t Be Shy
During your travels, you’re bound to run into individuals who don’t know what to do or how to react to an individual with special needs. Diplomatically as you can, let people know what you need and expect them to make accommodations for your child’s special needs. Most people will be more than happy to help. Specify and explain what you need in a room or seating accommodation and why. This can be an opportunity to do your part for disability awareness. *wink*
It’s a “Family” Trip
It’s natural to be concerned about how your special needs child is getting along, but don’t forget to offer some quality time and attention to other members of your family. Reconnect with your loved ones while your special needs child is napping or occupied with a favorite toy. They’ll definitely thank you for having a cooperative and supportive attitude when your attention has to be focused on your special needs child.
Plan a Day of Rest
Even experienced travelers experience jet lag and it’s not just confined to air travel. Expect both your kids’ and your own body to need some down time when you arrive at your destination, and when you arrive home. Allow yourself to rest and recover before heading back into your hectic routine.
Don’t Expect Perfection
Traveling is also an acquired skill, so if your first trip doesn’t turn out perfectly, don’t give up! Which things and routines worked well or can be crossed off your list on future trips? Analyze things, and remember that time spent establishing relationships can be time well invested.
For a little extra, since most of your time is spent at the airport when traveling by plane, here are some tips to get through it as fast and efficiently as possible:
When booking a flight, tick the “Special Services” box
- Whether you need a wheelchair or not, the airline will have someone available to help you get to the gate and get on and off the flight. Just make sure to remind them of this service request at the ticketing counter and check in at the gate early, reminding them of your boarding needs.
Prepare for Bathroom Breaks
- All kids have different needs and some may require diapers. Use creams to protect your kids’ skin from rashes and take advantage of family bathrooms with changing tables.
- Bring lots of them! A wide variety! Nothing diverts attention like a snack and airlines will not provide much to keep tummies satisfied. Have lots of extra food that will work for your kids in case of emergencies, like delayed flights.
Keep Ears from Hurting
- Anything that makes the jaw work during takeoff and descent is helpful, like gum, pacifier or a bottle. For older kids, earplugs or noise cancelling headphones can also keep ears from popping and hurting.
Bring Things to Do
- Whether it’s a favorite toy or stuffed animal, as long as your child is entertained, it means a better flight for everyone.
Check In as Many Bags as Possible
- The less you’re lugging around, the happier you’ll be. You’ll save time and skip the long lines.
Protect your Stroller or Wheelchair
- Some kids need a special chair and can’t use a typical wheelchair. Make sure it’s tagged with your name and contact information and if a case is available for your equipment, get it. Also consider travel insurance that covers your special chair.
Pack Medications in your Carry-On
- Keep your meds with you at all times. Look for lines for special needs where agents are more experienced and you can bring liquid meds through TSA directly.
Bring a Lightweight Blanket
- Sometimes flights get chilly and a little travel blanket comes handy. It can also be used as a pillow.
Flying with your special needs child gets easier with every trip, which can help you get a routine along the way. The more you travel, the better you get at it. Just maintain an attitude of adventure and keep things flexible, and it will mean more fun for everyone. Safe travels!