Cara Byrne shares her tips for travelling with children with special needs.
Travelling with children with special needs can be challenging. They have, by definition, more specific requirements than the average person. These may be hard to accommodate with regular activities, but with proper planning, travelling can be a very nurturing and valuable experience for children with special needs.
Why bring your kids?
There are a number of compelling reasons to take your child on a trip. First off all, it can be a great opportunity to bond and deepen your connection as a family. Travelling is also a very sensory experience. Growing children can benefit from the change in scenery as they learn more about the different sights and sounds the world has to offer. The outdoor setting is specifically important to children with special needs. According to Footprints Life Camp founder Naj D’Silva, children on the autism spectrum are more socially active and emotionally stable when exposed to outdoor environments. A natural setting can be very therapeutic because of the calming sounds, exposure to sunlight, and access to fresh air. All of these combined can be rewarding for the learning ability, social skills, and overall wellbeing of a child with special needs.
Travelling Dos and Don’ts
Bringing your children out to see and experience more of the world can be helpful for their development, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t challenging. To help you out, here are some key tips for travelling.
1. Plan ahead and prepare
Planning is perhaps the most crucial part of travelling in general. With special needs kids in tow, you need to be more detailed and ready for contingencies. The first step is to search for a destination that has good accessibility for disabilities and other special needs. Even if you’re just going to a nearby park, it’s good practice to know if there are ramps or even adaptive playground equipment. This also applies to transportation. When travelling by plane, The Independent recommends calling up the airline first to find out if your child is fit to fly and to notify them that you’ll be requiring assistance. Make sure to ask if you can take essential gear and equipment on board, such as wheelchairs or pushchairs. Furthermore, look at accessibility in public transport systems. For example, Transport for London outlines accessible routes in train stations. All black cabs are wheelchair accessible.
2. Pack essential gear — and more!
Every parent or guardian should have a list of essential gear wherever they go so as not to leave anything behind. Know what your child needs and uses on a daily basis and see if you can find a portable version of it for more convenience. For example, kids with mobility issues require assistance with going around and many travel in a pushchair. One of the qualities of a good pushchair, which is evident from the array of prams on iCandy, is comfort regardless of the terrain. If you’re walking on a busy street or a bumpy field, keeping your child comfortable is a must to keep them as calm as possible. Keep that in mind when choosing essential gear and packing for a trip.
If you have the space, another thing you might consider packing is a weighted blanket. This specific kind of blanket has been found to ease the anxiety of people with special needs such as ADHD and autism. It can help your child adjust to a new destination much like a security blanket or a favourite toy would. Not only should these tools prioritise convenience, it should also help children maintain a sense of familiarity when brought to an unfamiliar environment.
3. Don’t expect perfection
The third and final tip for parents bringing their child with special needs on a trip is to let go of high expectations. Prepare for challenges by planning and coming up with back-up ideas. Be flexible to different scenarios and remember that you want your kids to experience new things, learn from them, and ultimately have fun.