So the big day has finally come! After weeks or even months of planning and preparing, your family is finally hitting the road for the vacation you’ve all been dreaming of.
(If you are still in the planning stages, be sure to check out Part One in this series, Planning a Vacation with Children.)
But even with all the details you’ve mapped out and ran through in your head, you know as well as anyone that life is unpredictable even in the best of times—let alone when trying to navigate a completely new set of unfamiliar circumstances with a child who has special needs or distinct sensitivities.
So what can be done during your trip to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible?
Here are some professional tips you may want to make use of so you can focus on what matters most—enjoying your vacation and the precious family time that comes long with it:
Once you actually leave your home, the goal becomes making sure that everyone is enjoying themselves and that the plans you put in place beforehand are paying off.
This is true both en route to your destination, and when actually in the place you are visiting.
Remember that for many children, one of the biggest potential sources of discomfort during a trip can be unfamiliarity. To mitigate this, try some of the following:
- Ensure at least a basic daily structure throughout the trip—such as having consistent times for waking up, eating meals, returning to the hotel, and going to bed.
- Be flexible with activities, and observe how your child reacts to different experiences. Don’t be afraid to switch to your predetermined Plan B if your child appears uncomfortable or disinterested in a certain activity.
- Give your child a heads up several minutes before it’s time to change activities, so they are not caught off guard and are less likely to react poorly to a transition.
- Scout out quiet areas at each new location you arrive at, to be prepared in case your child needs a break.
- Use the visual schedule, if you have prepared one beforehand (see Planning a Vacation with Children).
Another higher-risk part of a vacation is the actual moving from place to place. Long periods in a vehicle can be taxing on a child, and can potentially trigger negative responses or emotions.
When in transit, try the following:
- Make frequent stops, and take walks (even when flying). This will not only prevent everyone from feeling “cooped up” for too long, but will also reduce the likelihood of your child demanding unexpected bathroom stops along the way.
- Listen to an age-appropriate audiobook that will hold your child’s attention.
- In a car, have a parent sit beside the child, so that their needs can be tended to without distracting the driver from the road.
Other Useful Tips
- If your child does not have the ability to relay personal information in the event they get lost, ensure they wear some kind of non-removable identification at all times during the trip, such as placing a sticker with your phone number on your child’s back.
- Take a picture of your child every day, or when they change outfits, so you’ll have an updated photo in case your child wanders or gets lost. It might also be helpful to have a few cards detailing your child’s needs that might be relevant in a search scenario, such as whether they will typically respond to their name, run away from strangers, communicate effectively, and answer certain types of questions.
- It might be best to cater to the needs of picky eaters during trips—unfamiliar places where there’s an “audience” might not be the best places to try to expand their food repertoire.
- Provide reinforcement for expected (“good”) behaviors, and give extra reinforcement during times that are difficult for your child.
There’s no reason why a child’s special needs or distinct sensitivities should prevent the experience and enjoyment of a family trip from taking place.
Proactively facing and tackling the challenges can go a long way—and can help you create those lifelong memories you’ve been dreaming about.
We hope the tips in this article can help make this a reality for your family!
For more information, or for guidance in planning a trip with a special needs child, please feel free to reach out to the Empirian team. We are always happy to help.