July 2, 2013
Travel Tips for Children with Special Needs
For any child with special needs, long-distance travel can be daunting. So whether you’re going by land, sea or air, it’s important to plan ahead.
Here are 10 tips to help you and your family travel with ease and grace.
1. Anticipate — You know your child better than anyone. You know her limitations and what she enjoys. If mixed food flavors create a sensory meltdown, bring individually packaged snacks. If her attention span is short, pack extra toys or books that you know can hold her attention.
2. Prepare for an emergency — Ask for a reference from your child’s physician for a competent doctor at your destination. Make contact before you travel. If there are any medical problems or emergencies, you’ll be ready.
3. Pack medications and medical records — Obtain a copy of your child’s medical records, be sure you have enough labeled prescription medications for the length of the trip, and ask for a simple letter from your child’s doctor detailing your child’s condition. A one-page letter can help when you’re requesting help, such as a change in room size or an upgraded flight.
4. Talk to your child — Read about travel””cars, buses, trains, planes. Talk about the upcoming trip, and explain what to expect. Pretend to pack a bag and “˜travel’ with your little one.
5. Ask for special-needs travel accommodations — From hotel rooms with wider doors and handicap-accessible bathrooms, to rental car agencies that can provide specially equipped vans, there are a range of options available to help make specialized travel available. Don’t be afraid to ask.
The following tips are for air travel:
6. Consider seat belt restraints — The CARES Child Aviation Restraint System can be privately purchased. If you think an adult lap belt will be insufficient to properly restrain and protect your child, consider buying CARES.
7. Use pressure-regulating earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones — Ear Planes are earplugs that help regulate your child’s ear pressure during takeoff and landing. Noise-cancelling headphones can also help if crowded quarters or the steady hum of the engines make your child anxious.
8. Consider an airport visit or a mock flight — Take your child to the local airport to allow him time to get used to the atmosphere. Some airports are now even offering “˜mock flights’ to help make travel with kids easier.
9. Call TSA Cares — Travelers may call a TSA help line at 1-855-787-2227 to ask for special needs travel assistance. Call approximately 72 hours ahead of your travel time so that the airports will have time to implement your requests.
10. Relax — Especially in close quarters, children (particularly sensitive children) will pick up on your mood and anxiety level. Flying with kids can be fun. Relax, and you’ll find that things go more smoothly””even if they don’t quite go according to plan.
Special needs travel can be nerve-racking at times, but it can also be an enthralling adventure! Plan as well as you can and then let your expectations go. Encourage your child to enjoy the journey, and encourage yourself to do the same!