Is it August already? Where have the summer months gone? If you’re a parent of school-age children, or a teacher, August means the start of back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, carpool scheduling, doctor’s visits, haircuts and more. But not so fast— there’s still time for some late summer fun. It’s just a question of planning. For parents of children with disabilities, arranging a last-minute excursion or vacation requires a little extra planning. Here are some tips to make end-of-the season travel more manageable:
Before setting off, do your best to provide your child with as much information as possible about your family’s travel itinerary. Some children, especially those with autism, sensory sensitivities or anxiety disorders, have difficulty coping with changes to their routines and anticipating the unknown. Social stories about travel or vacationing are a great way to lessen their anxiety. If there isn’t time to design your own story-book, look for one on the web. Here’s one created by Pam Drennen, V.P. Director of Clinical Services Speech at Kidmunicate in preparation for a trip to the beach. You can also try “photo albums, schedules and maps to help our children understand where [they]are going and whom [they] will see,” says Karen Wang, an author at the Friendship Circle. “Any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest,” says Wang.
Wang also recommends parents carry a “portable sensory toolkit.” Toolkits may contain a “baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat; ice-cold water bottle with a sport cap for sucking or an ice-cold juice box with a straw; hand lotion or lip balm; soft fabric for rubbing on hands or a stuffed animal; a squeeze or koosh ball; soundproof headphones [or earmuffs] and a change of clothes…” says Wang. You may also want to pack one of Enabling Devices’ weighted vests or blankets or our Miracle Belt. All these products help children with sensory integration challenges satisfy their needs for sensory input.
If your child has physical disabilities or a chronic medical condition, find out where nearby pharmacies and emergency medical facilities are located, and make sure that your health insurance is accepted there.
If you’re flying, familiarize yourself with the latest airline regulations. While most airlines have information for travelers with disabilities on their websites, be on the safe side and call the airline to ask questions and make special arrangements such as early boarding, deplaning and seating preferences. Huff Post’s Meg Harris recommends calling the TSA prior to your flight. “Alert TSA to your child’s disability,” writes Harris. “Children with disabilities can be screened without being separated from their parents or guardians. Be sure to communicate to the TSA agent suggestions on the best way to approach and screen their children. Also remember that children under 12 do not need to remove their shoes.” Make certain to leave time for airport traffic, long lines, finding gates and changing flights. Rushing with children, especially children with physical or developmental disabilities, is usually a recipe for disaster.
If you’re driving, make sure your car is in operational order before heading out. Allow plenty of time for bathroom and food breaks, traffic jams and weather conditions. Separating squabbling siblings and having teens bring their own musical selections (with headphones!) will go a long way toward making the ride more bearable. Even better, borrow some audiobooks from the library. Don’t forget to bring blankets and pillows. Napping is an ideal way to pass time on a long road trip.
Visiting an attraction or theme park? Purchase tickets ahead of time whenever possible. Don’t assume that parks, beaches, museums and historic sites will be able to meet your child’s accessibility needs. Call ahead to make sure there are no disappointing surprises. If your child tends to wander, make sure she wears a wandering bracelet or carries easily visible identification. Some vacation spots such as Walt Disney World offer special privileges for children with disabilities. Inquire about these before you go. Some may require documentation of your child’s disability, so bring a doctor’s note along.
Now, go ahead and make some wonderful memories!