Off We Go: Traveling Tips For A Child Who Has Special Needs
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And so on. “Social Stories” can be used for any situation—using a public bathroom, going to school, riding on a plane. And of course, one of the best parts may be inviting your child to make it with you. Learn more about how to write and use “Social Stories” at thegraycenter.org.
A little familiarity can’t hurt.
If staying in hotels and eating at restaurants puts too much stress on your child—or on you to supervise her behavior—consider online apartment rentals, so you can cook some familiar meals, have more space for family down-time, bring a familiar blanket or toy, and keep some regular routines intact. If your child is especially skittish about new places, it may be a good compromise to revisit a familiar vacation spot where she’s already had a good experience. She knows what to expect, and you get to increase the odds that you’ll all be able to relax.
Don't be shy - ask for help.
If your child needs special accommodations to make a travel experience rewarding, don’t hesitate to ask for them. Did you know that some airports are agreeable to “fake” security checks for children with autism, so you can practice the procedure in advance of the big day? Many establishments have extra amenities or special provisions that might be a godsend to you, but they probably don’t advertise them. Restaurants can give you tables closer to the exit. Disneyland and Six Flags have special passes that allow kids to skip lines; some of these require proof that your child needs accommodation, so consider bringing documentation. Extra effort (and assertiveness) on the front end can cut your child needed slack later.
And if you find your child drawing stares or censorious looks, don’t let them spoil your vacation. Here des Roches Rosa is a role model. She writes of her son Leo, “I do not care if other people think he behaves strangely or makes funny noises; as long as he is not harming or interrupting anyone, we carry on with heads raised, meeting stranger’s stares with confident and unapologetic smiles that I will admit to having practiced in the bathroom mirror.” Focus on making the experience good for your family.
Failure is an option.
A perfect vacation is impossible, but every vacation is perfectly instructional. What worked—and what didn’t—can be logged in your inventory of subsequent to-dos and not-to-dos. What was surprisingly successful, and what will you avoid next time? As des Roches Rosa wisely tries to do, think of failure as an investment in future success.
The Child Mind Institute is an NYC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming mental health care for children everywhere. Visit childmind.org for a wealth of information related to your child with special needs, including strategies for dealing with a diagnosis and behavior, symptoms and signs, practical tools, videos, and more.