There is nothing earth shattering about the assertion that traveling with kids is difficult; however, when you add a child with disabilities into the traveling mix, the difference is almost incalculable.
Taking our son Nate to visit family is more than just extra planning and work. It’s seeing the challenges he faces through the eyes of people who don’t spend very much time with him.
It’s explaining why he does what he does, and why we respond like we do.
It’s making sure Nate’s brother gets the attention he deserves from his extended family.
It means security lines, a 6-hour plane trip, long car rides, lingering meals at fancy restaurants, and well-meaning family members who don’t always understand.
It means skipping certain outings that just won’t work for our family, or leaving early from others.
It means seeing younger cousins’ development skyrocket past Nate’s. At moments, it can be gut-wrenching.
However, except for those rare times I need a trip by myself, I want my mischievous red-head by my side. He’s part of what makes our family who we are. Without him, there is a piece of joy missing.
Although there’s no set of travel tips that will work for everyone all the time, I do have a few that help bring me back to center when vacation planning time rolls around. Maybe they will help you, too.
Plan for the best, prepare for the rest.
Anticipate what your child needs to feel comfortable in a new environment—comfort items, headphones, games, music—and make a plan for when things don’t go as well as you hoped.
Make trial runs.
Test out what works and doesn’t work with short trips close to home. Check with your local airport to see if they offer any practice opportunities for families traveling with a child with disabilities. Wings for Autism is a great option if it’s available in your area.
Research. Research. Research.
Need to find a sensory friendly outing? An accessible beach? A restaurant that can meet different dietary needs? Connect with other parent groups and online forums. There’s almost no question you could have that someone else hasn’t already asked and figured out.
Trust your gut.
If an event or outing you planned two months ago (or even a week ago) doesn’t feel right today, it’s okay to pass. Forcing something to happen, just because it’s been planned, is not going to make things magically go well.
If traveling by air, contact TSA Cares a few days before your planned departure.
TSA Cares is a free service for anyone traveling with disabilities or special healthcare needs, and they can help you move quickly through security and other parts of the airport process.