Traveling with a Child with Special Needs


Traveling with a child is not an easy task for parents. When traveling with a child with special needs, the challenges are even greater. It can be daunting, precisely because it does what we expect vacations to do, take us away from routine, which is what these children rely on. Temptation to stay home and avoid unpredictable reactions such as meltdowns, sensory issues, social fears, or just the difficulty of traveling with medical equipment, and wheelchairs can be discouraging. Know how invaluable it is for the whole family to go on vacation, it helps avoid resentment towards the child with special needs. It is just as important to the child with special needs for his/her growth.

Preparation is your best offense and defense. To help make your next trip a little easier, here is a list of things to consider when planning your vacation and packing. There is no guarantee it’s going to be smooth sailing but following these suggestions will make your family vacations more enjoyable.

  • Crowds and long waits can make children anxious and tired and provoke meltdowns. Try booking your reservation during off-peak hours if possible.
  • Find an airline that offers nonstop flights, although the cost may be higher so that you don’t have to worry about changing planes.
  • While booking the flight, mention that you will need extra assistance. Most airlines, car rental companies, and hotels have dedicated teams for that purpose.
  • Notify the airlines that you will be traveling with a wheelchair, car seat, or medical equipment; as each airline and airport have their own policies. Never assume that your experience going, will be the same returning. Confirm the policies for your return home. Take note of the agent’s name and direct extension for future reference.
  • If you are traveling with a car seat, make sure it’s FAA approved and not expired. Car seats now have expiration dates.
  • If your child uses an electric wheelchair check with the airlines as the battery of the chair can be an issue. It may be a good idea to rent one at your destination rather than traveling with your own.
  • If you are traveling by cruise, check their policies regarding an individual with special needs.
  • When picking a seat on the airplane check out Seat Guru. This site lets you evaluate seating based on legroom, seat width, overhead storage, dc power, food, and internet accessibility. This helps you determine where your child might do best on the plane. You’ll want to consider proximity to the restroom and whether a window, middle, or aisle seat is best.
  • Get a doctor’s note explaining your child’s condition which is helpful when asking for special accommodations. Carry it with you as you don’t know where you will need it.
  • Get contact details of a doctor, specialists, or urgent care at your destination, so in the event of emergencies you are prepared.
  • Bring a copy of his/her birth certificate and immunizations.
  • Evaluate medications, so you won’t run out while you are away or immediately after returning. Remember to take medication in your carry-on bag and not the check in bag in case there is a delay, or it gets lost in transit.
  • Anticipate which situations pose the greatest challenges, by having plenty of activities and supplies to engage the child. Some must-pack items may include; a tablet, laptop, or smartphone with games, music, or movies that don’t require internet access. Headphones to drown out noise, snacks, wipes, favorite blanket, stuffed animals, quiet toys, books, sweater, change of clothes, diapers if necessary, sippy cup or bottle, and Dramamine (for motion sickness).
  • If your child is prone to running off, an ID bracelet is important. Dress your child in bright colors, it makes it easier to spot him in a crowd.

Security screenings can be stressful, to say the least, all while trying to keep track of all your belongings, your family, and of course the child with special needs. Add to that the fear of what TSA is going to question. Be calm, polite, and respectful no matter how silly or ridiculous the question or request may seem. Getting confrontational with security only ends up slowing down the process and is not a good idea.

Be assertive! Your child is entitled to VIP treatment everywhere you go. Many establishments have extra amenities or special provisions, they just don’t advertise them, so always ask!