Seeing the World with a Special Needs Child

special needs child with disability traveling boy in wheelchair
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Travel for All: Seeing the World with a Special Needs Child Written by Family Days Out correspondent Jennifer McGregor

There are few things greater than getting off the couch and out into the great big wide world. However, children with special needs often miss out on experiences beyond their hometown. But it is possible to travel with a disabled child if you make preparations well in advance. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Ask the airport for accommodations. Before you book your plane tickets, double check with the airport and make sure they will be able to accommodate your child’s needs. For instance, if they are in a wheelchair, make prior arrangements to have an airport representative help your child get from the security checkpoint to the plane.

Make your home safe and secure. All travelers should take steps to ensure their home is safe and secure while they are away. HomeAdvisor offers numerous tips on vacation home security, including unplugging appliances, locking the doors, and cleaning out the fridge and pantry.

Consider a home swap. Believe it or not, you are not the only family with a special-needs child that wishes to travel. Consider signing up for a home exchange with a family whose child has similar needs as your own. The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality explains that home swapping is a more budget-minded option than staying at a hotel, which may not be set up to accommodate issues such as sensory disorders.

Talk to your child about what’s happening. Depending on your child’s disability, he or she may need to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for the trip. USA Today explains that hurdles for parents with special needs children include everything from finding the right foods to avoiding issues that can cause distress. Talk to your child beforehand and make sure they are aware that you are doing everything in your power to make the trip as safe and comfortable for him as possible, but there may be moments where the journey is uncomfortable.

Provide plenty of distractions. Whether you’re traveling by land, air, or sea, kids of all ability levels need fun distractions to make the trip more enjoyable. Parents offers a few great ideas for travel games you can play with children ages four and up.

Make a checklist and keep it handy. When you’re at home, it’s easy to get into a routine. Habits, such as giving your children medication at a certain time, often go unbroken. But when you are traveling, time moves at a different pace. If you want to have a true rest and relaxation experience, you must take the time to compile a complete checklist of necessary items and actions well before you ever hit the road. Your checklist should include things like:

❏ Request a specific airline seat to accommodate your child’s needs

❏ A letter from your doctor outlining your child’s condition

❏ Medical records

❏ Applicable medical equipment and medications

❏ Gather emergency contact information

❏ For children who’ve never flown before, plenty of books about flight and travel

❏ If in the USA, contact TSA Cares at 855.787.2227 for information on special assistance available to you at the airport

❏ Bring enough small bills to quickly and efficiently pay for taxi service

❏ Pre-print your boarding pass and check-in before you arrive

❏ Have a backup plan in place

More than anything, know that all of your hard work – and headaches – are worth it. Whether your child is wheelchair-bound, has significant visual impairments, or sits anywhere on the autism spectrum, travel is an experience that opens up a whole new world of life. Take a deep breath, hold your head up high, and get ready to share the sights and sounds with your entire family.

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