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20 Holiday Travel Tips for Parents of Children With Special Needs

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The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many special needs families, it can be the most stressful — especially when it’s time to hop on a plane or hit the road. Whether it’s unfamiliar settings, noises or crowds, travel often requires planning and a lot of patience.

We figured folks in our community might have some simple but brilliant ideas on how to prepare for the coming weeks, so we asked parents of kids with special needs if they had any holiday travel tips and advice. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “If you are flying, play that special needs card! First on and first off makes a world of difference. Request a wheelchair when you arrive at the airport, especially if you have a child that likes to wander. This expedites your family through security.” —Rain Mom

Child has lunch

2. “I would make my son a book about the trip including everything about the airport process, the activities we would do during the time there and the different clothes he would have to wear (he’s a Florida boy and we go north for Christmas). It really helps him read through the process and know what to expect.” —Samantha Elaine

3. “Be realistic, but just do it! Expect issues. Manage expectations of family you are visiting.” —Barbara Carter

Family on train

4. “Have your little one watch videos of people successfully being screened by TSA, what it sounds like on a plane, planes taking off and landing.” —Bailey Annan Sonday

5. “Have the Ipads charged up and ready for the drive!” —Suzi Walcott

Happy boy playing with touchpad in the car

6. “Schedule regular breaks if driving so the kids can get out and move.” —Marybeth Mitcham

7. “Bring all the juice boxes on the planet.” —Shari DeCarlo

blond little girl drinking straw tetra brick

8. “We just took the auto train from Washington D.C. to Orlando, and it was wonderful. We got to bring our own car, so we packed whatever and as much as we wanted. Kids loved the train ride, got to bring all our electronics. No airport delays, no ‘please stay seated.’ You get dinner and breakfast included and a movie in the club car. The best part of all, if you are stuck on a train, you can get up, walk around, get a snack, watch a movie. The possibilities are endless. I would totally recommend it to anyone who is afraid to take the plunge. Also, Amtrak gives discounts.” —Susan Dobbins Brasky

9. “Have a plan/schedule and prepare for things not to go exactly according to the plan.” —DeAnna Wry

Crying toddler boy

10. “The ‘Kid in Story’ app is my favorite to create a story ahead of time, using photos of your kids to place them in various situations that you anticipate in your upcoming trip. You can record your voice reading the story as well. This visual social story could help prepare your child for what is to come or to help explain some of the changes/chaos/transitions that tend to happen around the holidays with all of the extra packing, company at the house, change in schedule, etc.” —Stacey FH

11. “No new clothes! If you have a special outfit you want your child to wear, let them wear it a number of times before the big event, that way they will be used to it.” —Nikki Slaght

Baby clothes.

12. “Know your child’s limitations and comfort/stress levels.” —Elizabeth Campbell

13. “Snacks… Lots of snacks.” —Kathy-Jo Love Sampson

Open bag with fallen tacos

14. “Always take headphones to block out noise.” —Olivia Mackay

15. “Have family come to your home. It’s a bit more stressful for you but way less meltdowns.” —Vanessa Robbins

A family smiles as they welcome the viewer opening the door to their home

16. “If there is no internet on the device, make sure you don’t have internet-only apps on there. Made that mistake by leaving Netflix on and had a screaming child for two hours until we got to our destination. Won’t make that mistake again.” —Viola Smith

17. “Take everything you think you might need… even if that includes the kitchen sink! And then spares of the super important things (chargers for electronics, favorite toys, etc.) Bring anything you child cannot go without; take as many spares as possible.” —Megan Exelby

Hand holding different Gadget Chargers

18. “When traveling by public transport, inform staff about the child’s diagnosis. Then they know and are able to assist and help rather than be annoyed and angry.” —Katja BF

19. “We brought a hard copy our son’s doctor contacts. It came in handy when our cellphones died and we needed to make an urgent call.” —Cristina Lafontant

20. “Bring a positive mind frame.” —Cristina Lafontant

Family reading in airport

*Some responses have been edited and shortened for brevity.

Originally published: December 10, 2015
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