We’re entering the time of year where we reflect on what we’re grateful for and spend time with people we love the most. This Thanksgiving season, many of you may be traveling to visit loved ones. Traveling may bring anxiety for some, especially for parents who have children with special needs.
Here’s some tips for parents of children with special needs for car and air travel this holiday season.
1. HAVE YOUR CHILD CARRY A GO-BAG
Therapists at The Warren Center recommend your child carry a go-bag. They can use their usual backpack and fill this go-bag with snacks, toys and activities. Let them be in control of the bag and keep an eye on it.
Here’s what you can pack in the go-bag:
- Pack lots of snacks and prepared meals for your trip. Portion them out in easily accessible containers and let your child have some control over the choices. Click here to view snack boxes that contain four compartments for food, which are sold on Amazon.
- Include on-the-road activities, such as DIY Lego containers, dry erase boards and books, such as Mad Libs. You can pack a coloring book to keep children occupied or a sketchbook and pencils so that children can draw things they see on the trip.
- Feel free to bring a tablet or other devices that has music and videos (but this should not be the only item for a child to have on a road trip). You can also bring over-the-ear headphones or earmuffs.
- For younger children, make sure you have plenty of diapers and wipes on hand. Also bring extra clothes in case of an accident.
- The best travel toys for babies are ones they can easily grasp and suck or chew on, according to Baby Can Travel. These can include a teething necklace, teether toys, shape sorters, stack-up cup toys, and more. Click here to view a list of good travel toys for babies.
- Pinterest is a great resource to learn of items you can add to your go-bag. Click here to learn more.
2. HAVE A ROUTE MAPPED OUT THAT INCLUDES REST BREAKS
If it’s a child’s first trip away from home, experts recommend trying to keep the trip to less than an hour in the air or on the road, and if it’s by car, they recommend having rest areas mapped out.
You should prepare extra time during your road trip for children. According to experts with the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, consider adding on at least 10 percent more time per child. With children, you’ll likely be taking more breaks to go to the restroom or eat some snacks. The Road Trip Expert taking a break of a minimum of 15 minutes for every two hours of driving.
Here’s what to do during a rest break on road trips:
- Give children time to run around and stretch their legs. This will allow them to get out their excess energy while exploring an unfamiliar space. This will also help tire your little one out before the next stretch of driving. You can take a brisk walk, do some jumping jacks, and touch your toes with your child to get muscles moving.
- Take time to explore roadside attractions. The Road Trip Expert says having mini destinations before your actual destination is a good way to incorporate breaks without feeling like you’re losing time, and you may learn a thing or two with your child.
- Play a quick game with your child. You can play a board game or bring a ball to throw or kick around.
- For babies, experts recommend planning your rest breaks when your child is awake and driving during their typical nap time.
- During rest breaks, stretch and massage your baby. Like adults, babies’ muscles can get stiff and sore after a long car ride.
- Take restroom breaks.
3. IF YOU’RE FLYING, CONTACT YOUR AIRLINE FOR SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS
TSA has a protocol that allows for special accommodations for children under 12 years old, regardless of ability level. Click here to learn more about these accommodations.
Autism Speaks wants parents to know that you can also let your airline know in advance that you will need assistance. For example, you may be able to request certain seats. It works better if you call rather than booking online.
Before boarding, notify the gate agent if you wish to board early. All families with children ages 6 and under are able to pre-board. Families of individuals with special needs may be able to get on first. You can also let the flight staff know so they can help if needed.
According to MiniTime, a travel blog for families, prepare your child for what will happen when you go through security. You can create a home activity that runs through TSA procedures. You can also practice what it’s like to find your departure gate, to get on the plane, to find your seat belt, and to spend time onboard.
Experts recommend packing one diaper per hour of flight time for babies. Be sure to pack wipes and a change of clothes, too.