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3 Travel Tips for Families of Children With Special Needs

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Traveling can be one of the most stressful situations children on the autism spectrum can find themselves in, trapped on an airplane for however many hours with no place to escape if a meltdown ensues. For our family, if the destination doesn’t include a beach, it is frankly not worth leaving home. In the winter, this necessitates airplane travel. In the spirit of setting my son up for success, when we board an airplane, we try to make sure the destination we choose will be as relaxing and enjoyable as possible for our whole family (we have four kids!), even if the journey doesn’t prove to be so.

Here are a few travel tips we have learned along the way:

1. Whenever possible, we fly Jet Blue. Jet Blue teamed up with Autism Speaks to do multiple “Blue Horizons for Autism” trainings with their staff and children with autism at airports around the country, and they go out of their way to help families with children with special needs. They walked my family directly to the front of the mile-long security line the last time we traveled. Not to mention they have TVs in the back of each seat. I will happily watch four hours of “Peppa Pig” if it means quiet, happy children.

2. Bring a bag of your child’s favorite fidget toys/video games/snacks on the flight. And maybe include some new versions they haven’t seen before for novelty’s sake. And if you think your child will need it, consider sending a box from filled with toys/art supplies, like Wikki StixPlay-Doh, and markers, that are disposable and will keep them entertained while at your destination.

3. Rent a house or apartment. There are so many options on TripAdvisorAirbnbVRBO and Kid & Coe that can help you find child-friendly homes at all price points for your family in beautiful destinations around the world. Luxury resorts like the Four SeasonsAuberge Resorts, and Como Hotels and Resorts provide the option to have accommodations like a home but with access to all the amenities the hotel offers. And Smith & Family is a site dedicated to family travel that is completely kid-friendly.

We do this because…

You can bring or shop for your own food. This can be especially helpful for picky eaters and toddlers, and you don’t have to go through three expensive meals a day in a restaurant with kids who won’t/can’t sit still.

Make some noise! You don’t have to worry as much about noise control in a house. Who wants to act like a librarian in a hotel with kids, shushing them all day and night for fear the manager will show up at your door? In a rental home, your kids can make as much noise as they want!

Save some money. If you have a bunch of kids, a house or apartment can actually be more cost-effective than multiple hotel rooms; ditto if you are traveling with more than one family.

Have fun during downtime! After a day of swimming at a beach or pool, or playing in the snow depending on your holiday destination, often there are still hours of the day to fill — that time between dinner and bedtime, etc. Even the smallest house has more space for downtime than a hotel room. Keep in mind, of course, even during what you may feel is a “travel disaster” — meltdowns, kids are making too much noise, stealing french fries from a stranger’s plate or somehow ending up on a moving luggage conveyor belt (this all really happened to me!), etc. — can lead to “teachable moments.” Other parents and children can learn tolerance, so keep your cool if people stare and try to be the light to let your child shine as much as possible.

Image via Contributor.

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Originally published: February 9, 2017
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