Plan Ahead of Time
Make a detailed itinerary and make sure your children understand each leg of the journey. For children with anxiety, it may help to rehearse parts of the trip. Take some short practice runs in the car to help the child become accustomed to entertaining themselves in the car. Visit the airport in advance and point things out to your children. Watch planes land and take off. When your trip arrives, the travel expectations you have for your children will feel more familiar and comfortable.
Give Yourself Extra Time
If your journey includes air travel with a special needs child, be sure to arrive at the airport well in advance. Although, it does mean extra time at the airport, it will ensure that you have time to make any necessary adjustments. If you are driving, leave extra early so you can plan to stop several times along the way to stretch your legs or even visit interesting sites on the road. If you are not in a hurry, the trip will be more enjoyable for all.
Travel with Help
If possible, you should plan on at least two adults traveling with your party, especially if you are bringing more than one child, or a special needs child. When things get rough, an extra person who can help with baggage, check-ins or even truck-stop bathroom breaks will help things go more smoothly.
Accommodations for Children
If you are using commercial transportation, call ahead to see what accommodations are in place for families traveling with an autistic kid. Take advantage of anything that may be helpful in keeping your children comfortable and entertained.
Travel During Sleep Times
Many children have an easier time traveling while they sleep. If possible, plan to leave at night or when your kids are used to taking naps.
WHAT TO PACK
Pack plenty of healthy, low-sugar snacks that your children are familiar with and enjoy. Chewable and high-protein snacks are great choices, as well as things that do not need a lot of prep and can easily be eaten on the go. You never know when a flight will be delayed or if the next restaurant is not for another 100 miles down the road.
Special Needs Foods
If your child has special dietary restrictions, be sure to bring things you know they can eat. Special needs foods may be harder to find if you don’t know the area as well as home.
Pack a first aid kit. Make sure each child has a proper car seat. Bring all medications your children are on.
Just in case you need to visit a doctor while out of town, be sure to carry your insurance cards with you. It will make the process much easier and you’ll be able to save your concerns for your sick child.
Bring Extra Clothes
Most likely, if flying, you’ll need to check bags. Or, if driving, you may have a very packed trunk with multiple bags. Easy access to an extra set of clothes for each child will make getting through any mishaps easier and stress free. Socks tend to disappear easily, so don’t forget a few extra pairs of SmartKnitKIDS socks, too.
Pack several small sensory input toys that will keep your children’s attention for longer periods of time. Choose things that are easy to pack and pick up, but also things that your children already enjoy. Good examples are Rubix Cubes, rubber band balls and Play-Doh. You may want to have a few things to play with in the hotel, as well, for downtime.
What to Wear
When traveling with a child with autism or sensory processing disorder, what you dress your child in can make a difference in your trip. Make sure they are comfortable since they’ll probably be in these clothes for a while. Dress in layers to plan accordingly for each climate you’ll encounter. Try having your child wear a Compresso-T. It will help keep them calm and better able to manage their anxieties and sensory input.
ESTABLISH GROUND RULES
Create Realistic Expectations
Know what your children can handle and what they will not be able to handle. You may need to add extra stops into your itinerary or perhaps travel over multiple days. Don’t pack too much into your day to overwhelm kids.
Discuss the House Rules
Make sure your children know what will be expected of them at all locations – how to behave on a plane or in a hotel or even what special rules Grandma has at her house. Knowing what is expected up front will help them to follow along with your expectations.
Tablets, phones or other electronic devices provide touch, visual and audio input for children. Remember a set of headphones and a pair of sunglasses to help those sensitive to bright light. Download age-appropriate games ahead of time, or make sure your data plan will be sufficient for your entire trip. You can also bring a data hotspot. Ensure that all your devices are charged and that you’ve brought extra chargers, especially if you are sharing devices with your children. You won’t want to be in a jam if the kids used up all the battery playing games just when you need your map app to get you to your next stop.
Pack Your Sense of Humor
The best travel tip for parents of young children is just to make the trip fun for you and your kids. Laugh with your kids and tell jokes. Make up road trip games to play together along the way. It will make the trip more fun, enjoyable and memorable for you and your kids.
Visit Local Site for Children
Help your kids create a memory of their adventure. Visiting a playground, children’s museum or other children’s attractions while on the road will not only give them something fun to remember during your travels, but will also give your kids a chance to burn up some energy they’ve accumulated along the way.
STAY CALM AND EXPECT CHANGES OF PLANS
Don’t let yourself get discouraged with minor setbacks. There will always be things that happen – a speeding ticket or a missed connection during a layover. Take each day in stride and enjoy your trip as best as you can.
Expect Changes in Plans
It’s okay if you don’t make it to everything you wanted to do with your kids. If you stay calm and continue to have fun with what you do make it to, your kids will build happy memories of your travels. If you stress about changes, they may, too, and that’s what they’ll remember about your trip. a speeding ticket or a missed connection during a layover. Take each day in stride and enjoy your trip as best as you can.
Car and airplane travel with an autistic child, a child with sensory processing disorder, or any other child with special needs can be rewarding and enjoyable. Follow these helpful tips for your next family trip.
This article should not be used in place of advice from a medical doctor or occupational therapist.