10 Tips for Traveling with a Child with Special Needs

7_a74LTi_400x400Linda Mastroianni is founder, writer, editor and blogger of www.SpeakingAutism.ca

She is a certified life coach providing consulting services on many issues such as special education, life skills, transition into the workplace, aging out of the school system, employment programs and much more. Linda is also a contributor for Huffington Post Canada and has had her worked published in various on line magazines. She has been featured in Inspirations Newspaper: A Special Needs Family Resource and Autism Parenting Magazine.

Linda is also available as a speaker. For more information, you can contact her at lmastroianni@videotron.ca

Traveling with a Child with Special Needs

In this particular post, Linda share some awesome tips on traveling with a child with special needs.

Family vacations always take a certain amount of planning, especially if you’re travelling with children.  Travelling with a child with special needs takes an even greater amount of preparation.  Some families are hesitant to travel with their special needs child.  The thought of dealing with their child’s challenges outside of their comfort zone (home) can be frightening and somewhat overwhelming.   However, with the proper planning, a successful trip is more than possible.

Here are a few tips that can help the entire family have a happy and enjoyable vacation:

  1. Choose your spot. Whether it’s taking a road trip Florida or flying to Mexico, whatever destination you choose, make sure it suits the needs of the entire family.  You want to ensure your child with special needs will have all that they need while on vacation as well as the rest of the family.
  1. Map out your destination. Once you have picked your vacation spot, map out the places you’d like to visit, along with the activities that are offered.  Research these places on line and familiarize yourself with the location.  Are there any that may not be suitable for your child with special needs?  If so, you can eliminate them right away and find something else to partake in.  Planning ahead will eliminate any unexpected surprises which in turn can potentially lead to some major meltdowns.
  1. Request assistance. Now that you know where you’re going, you can contact either hotel, tour operator etc. and inform them you will be travelling with a child with special needs and you’d like to secure some assistance for them during your stay.  List the specific accommodations you are requesting for your child and if possible get them to confirm this by email.  This way, there aren’t any last minute surprises when checking into the hotel.
  1. Call the physician. Ask your child’s doctor if he/she is willing to write a letter stating your child’s diagnosis and requesting personal assistance as needed throughout their travel time.  A sample letter can look something like this:

To whom it may Concern:

                         is my patient.  He is a 10 year old boy with autism.  His autism diagnosis creates major sensory issues which impedes his ability to wait in line for extended periods of time.  As his physician, I am confirming that          requires assistance when travelling.

Please offer the necessary accommodations for him and his family.

Thank you.

Other medical related information that should be on hand:

  • List of medications your child is taking
  • Location of nearest hospital or clinic in case of an emergency
  • Travel insurance policy with your medical insurance cards
  • Phone numbers/address/email of your doctors at home in case of emergency
  1. Call the airport. If you are flying to your destination, then you will want to contact the airport and inform yourself on what their policy is with children with special needs.  Many airports have families go through the special assistance line to speed up the process while others will escort a family straight though without any lineups at all.  This is important to establish ahead of time. Checking in at the airport is hectic and confusing enough as it is and if your child has sensory issues, then the sooner you get through this whole process, the better.
  1. Have copies of all documents. This is extremely important in case passports get lost or stolen, or electronic tickets go MIA.  Having a copy of all travel documents is being pro-active. For blended families, please ensure you have the permission to travel letter from your ex-spouse if your child still needs it in order to travel.
  1. Make a list and check it twice. You know what your child needs on a daily basis.  They will need the same things while on vacation, this won’t change.  To make sure you don’t forget anything they need and want to have an enjoyable vacation, make a list as you go through your day with your child.  This will make it easier to remember what to bring.  Once you’ve made your list, check it again and then once more.
  1. Pack extra favorites. You’ve made your list now you’re going to pack extras only of their very favorite item.  If they have too many favorites, then keep it down just a few.  Again, this is only in case of an emergency; for instance, your child lost their beloved toy lizard.  You’ve got a backup and believe me, you will be grateful you have one.
  1. On board entertainment. Whether your family is flying or driving to your holiday destination, you want make sure your child with special needs has all that they need during this time.  Make sure electronic devises are fully charged and chargers are packed and easily accessible if you need to access them during your flight/drive.  Make a small bag they can carry with some of their favorite items inside.  This will bring them a lot of comfort.
  1. Remember to relaxAs stressful as it may be preparing and planning for a trip, please remember to enjoy and relax during your vacation. You’re on holiday with your family and family vacations are always crazy and fun.  It’s not about perfection.  It’s about living in the moment and enjoying your time.  Life is so precious and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us.

It’s important to remember that you know your child best.  Go at their pace and follow your home routine as much as possible.  For many children, especially children with special needs, predictability and a familiar routine can ease much of their anxiety.   This contributes greatly to ensuring the whole family has a positive and lovely experience.


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