Submitted by Taveesha Guyton
The holiday season is upon us, and this usually means travel plans. If you are a parent traveling with children, this can be stressful. If you are a parent traveling with a child with special needs such as Autism, a family’s stress level can be magnified. Here are a few tips to help families traveling with children who have special needs:
- Family Meeting
Have the family decide where to go for the holidays together. This discussion should include travel dates and a list of family members who may be coming. If the family is traveling somewhere new, then everyone who can participate in the decision-making process should participate. The family meeting may include location, time, and what the family wants to experience. When it comes to traveling, time is of the essence and the sooner you book planes, hotels, and cars, the better and cheaper. It should also be noted: children can be very rigid when it comes to future travel plans, counting down the days until they go to grandma’s house, Disney, etc., helps them self-regulate.
- Special Accommodations
Most destinations have assistance to help guests with special needs. Airlines and airport staff are more than willing to help families make their transition from security to boarding. When a family identifies themselves as having an individual with special needs, the gate agents, flight attendants, and even some pilots are aware; some airlines will also do a boarding dry run. Some cruise ships have staff to help families in all aspects of travel, including being with the families while they are at security and even who providing respite/babysitting for families who require extra assistance. The TSA has created an online guide for air travelers with autism or intellectual disabilities.
Having your child pack their bags helps them get into the mindset of traveling. Packing their suitcase teaches responsibility and helps them with items they want to bring on the trip. Their travel gear may include their favorite things such as an iPad, Kindle or tablet, fidget spinners, back up batteries, chargers, coloring books, and sensory items such as socks, sensory blankets, and lap pads.
Whether you travel by train, plane or automobile, traveling requires patience, time and planning. Traveling is fun and should incorporate the family from the initial plan until return. Having a child with special needs should not discourage a family from experiencing vacation. When the family buys into the experience and preparation, the holiday should be enjoyable for all. Happy holidays!