Vacations can take a lot of work, but they are also tons of fun and provide so many memories for you and your kids to look back on. Having a child with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder can seem like a vacation would be a bit more challenging. Don’t let that stop you from taking vacations though. You can still go on vacation and everyone can still have a ton of fun if you add traveling with special needs children to the normal ways to handle vacation time as a family.
Note: Some links on this site may be affiliate links, which simply means I may make a small commission if you choose to buy a product. This is at no extra cost to you. I only post products that I highly recommend.
Easing anxiety is tricky sometimes. It is helpful for your child if you start trying to ease their anxiety before the trip even starts. Think about how you prepare for everyday outings, and transfer that knowledge to traveling with special needs. Think about what their triggers normally may be. When will you come across those triggers on the trip? Be honest with your child and let him or her know what to expect. Let your child know that those anxieties may come but that you will be there to walk them through it.
Once you have decided you are going on vacation, start talking about it with them immediately. Time is a huge factor. The longer time you give them, the more you can work through triggers.
If you can show them pictures of where you are going that can help ease the anxiety of traveling a little bit. Try to explain how the trip will go. If you are driving, tell them about stopping to stretch and use the bathroom, any possible hotel stays before you reach the destination. If you are flying, walk them through step by step what to expect. The more information you can give your child, the less anxiety they will eventually have. Even if they have anxiety, it will be less then if everything is a shock.
While your child probably has a normal way that their anxiety presents itself, vacation can bring on new signs of anxiety. Do your best to recognize any possible signs of anxiety before and during the trip. Address those immediately. Also, provide a comfort zone for your child. Make sure there is a place at the hotel or where you are staying that they will be comfortable.
iPad or Tablet
When anxiety gets too high, having a tablet within reach for your child can be a great distraction from everything. This makes it much easier for them to focus on something other than what they are worried about. Try not to bring this up in the preparation. Instead, use it for emergencies, or when a meltdown is about to start. This way, you and your child can both see how much your child can do before the tablet.
Make sure you find headphones beforehand that are comfortable for your child. Bonus tip: Bring a second pair and hide in your bag just in case anything were to happen to the first set of headphones.
There are two different types of headphones that may be helpful for your child. These headphones would connect to their tablet. This set of headphones can be specifically helpful if your child needs to be able to zone out and reorganize themselves.
The second pair is a sound-canceling set of headphones. These headphones are excellent if traveling with special needs children. These would be helpful if sounds become overwhelming for your child. They will still be able to be apart of what is going on while not being overwhelmed with sound. For example: on our most recent trip, the rain hitting the car was very overwhelming for our son. These sound canceling headphones would have been perfect to have on hand.
Bring Comforts with You
Do your best to bring items your child finds comfort with you. While it isn’t realistic to bring everything, we have narrowed it down to one or two favorite blankets, a favorite pillow and a movie. This took a few trips to figure out what combination worked but it was well worth the trial and error. Having the movie and a blanket in or near the seat helps our kiddo immensely.
This is one I personally struggle with. Taking kids on any trip is stressful but, adding in a child with special needs adds a different level of stress. The worrying alone is enough to make my patience thin. I am constantly reminding myself that I am not helping my son if I can’t remain calm during those trying times during the trip.
A way to practice patience is to spend some time looking for teachable moments with your child. Look for things during the trip that you can use to provide valuable life lessons to your child. This will take the anxiety of traveling with special needs and turn it into an adventure!
If things start to get frustrating I take a second, take a deep breath and count to 10, and exhale slowly. Me getting frustrated will only make my son’s frustrations worse so, it is important that I remind myself that he isn’t trying to make things more difficult for me.
See Things As They Do
Long before the trip even starts, it can be extremely helpful to try and see (and feel) things how they see (and feel) them. Normal sounds and smells for you may be overwhelming for your child.
Be as accommodating as possible for your child. Things like having sunglasses ready for overpowering sunlight, headphones to drown out loud road (or plane) noise, and any comfort items that may help ease nervousness. Any of these things can and will make your trip easier by making the trip easier for your child.
The trips that you take with your kids create so many unmatchable memories both you and your children. If you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder you can still have a vacation where everyone has a good time. It only takes some preplanning and some adjustments and the memories that will be made will be so worth it.