Summer vacations can provide a relaxing break for many families. However, children with special needs may struggle during vacation because of the changes to their schedule, routine and environment. Implement several tips as you plan a successful summer vacation for your entire family.
Choose a Quiet Destination
If your child has sensory challenges, choose a low-rise or small hotel with a room at the end of the hall, a rental home that’s off the beaten path, or a hotel suite. Additionally, avoid crowded resorts, firework displays or other sensory triggers — and pack an extra pair of noise-canceling headphones as you provide the quiet and calming environment your child needs.
Think About Accessibility
Select a vacation destination that’s accessible for the wheelchair, crutches or other mobility aids your child uses. Beaches, amusement parks and historical sites often provide handicap access, but call ahead to verify these details and plan alternative options that allow your child to enjoy the vacation.
Consider Your Child’s Interests
Plan to visit attractions that interest your child. For example, go to Cooperstown, New York, if your child loves baseball, or the mountains if your child loves nature. Also, make time for at least one of your child’s preferred activities, such as swimming, playing video games or reading, to ensure your child feels engaged and content.
Packing for a vacation with children with special needs requires lots of planning, so create a checklist of everything you may need. Remember your child’s favorite stuffed animal, preferred clothing and foods, and medicine. Pack coping and calming tools such as fidget toys or an iPad to help your child to feel comfortable while he or she is away from home.
Role-Play Before the Trip
Discuss your vacation destination and planned activities with your child. When your child knows what to expect, he or she can prepare mentally and emotionally, and will feel less anxiety and frustration. Talk about the animals you’ll see at the zoo, practice boarding a plane and check out the pictures of the hotel online. You can also track your vacation on a map or create a social story about landmarks you’ll visit.
Bring Extra Activities
While your vacation may include plenty of fun activities, bring extra entertainment for your child in case your flight is delayed, you get stuck in traffic or rain ruins your outdoor plans. You could wrap small gifts such as activity books, snacks or toys for your kids to open every hour, bring compact card games or download entertaining audio books or movies.
Ask About Special-Needs Services
Many vacation destinations provide accommodations for children with Down syndrome and other special needs, so investigate these options before your trip. Ask the airline for priority boarding, order a theme park wristband that allows children with a disability or special needs to avoid long lines, and opt for sensory-friendly show times.
Despite the fun and adventures you’ll enjoy on vacation, children with special needs probably needs alone or quiet time. The break provides a chance to catch one’s breath and calm his or her senses and emotions. Schedule downtime every day to help your child avoid feeling overwhelmed, and to decrease the risk of meltdowns.
Keep the Same Routine
Kids with autism or those who take medicine regularly need a schedule and routine. Attempt to keep your child’s familiar routine, even on vacation. With the same schedule, foods and activities, you create an environment that’s familiar and calming for your child.
You’re an experienced parent of a child with special needs, so you understand the need to be flexible in daily life. This skill comes in handy during your vacation, too. Watch your child carefully and look for signs of distress, frustration or pain. Change your plans or adjust the schedule to accommodate your child’s needs and ensure the trip remains fun, relaxing and peaceful for your entire family.
Your next summer vacation can be successful for your child with special needs and everyone in your family when you follow these tips. They help you meet your child’s needs and enjoy time together.
Author bio: Lisa Orlando is Senior Vice President, Marketing and Strategy of the Invo Family of Companies, which includes Invo-Progressus — a provider of employment and professional development for therapists. The company connects qualified candidates with job opportunities across the United States.