Tips for Going on Vacations with Your Special Needs Child

NOTE:  Remember that social distancing, avoiding large groups and mask-wearing will be easier for the child to continue doing when they return home if these practices have remained consistent while away.


The weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer.  As you make summer plans for your family, you’re probably already asking yourself some tough questions: what can I do to make trips as comfortable for my special-needs child as possible?  How can we share new memories as a family and keep stress to a minimum?  Here are some tips to keep in mind while planning your next big summer vacation.



Consider your child’s need for routine.


Children with special needs have a need for consistency, structure, and routine.  They may depend on indicators to manage their schedules; an alarm clock going off in the morning, an activity after school, a checklist before bed, etc.  Vacations and changes in day-to-day events can be stressful for children with special needs when not planned well in advance.  However, it also presents an excellent opportunity to build your child’s confidence in unfamiliar situations.


To compromise, keep your trip simple and plan one big activity for each day.  Use social stories to walk through vacation plans with your child.  Leave plenty of time for relaxation or familiar activities your child will be sure to enjoy.



Plan activities that are fun for your child.


If you are planning a trip to a place you and your family have been to before, consider revisiting locations your child may find familiar.  Having familiar experiences to look forward to will help your child cope with other, more novel experiences throughout the day.  


If you’re heading to a brand-new destination, discuss preferred activities with your child.  What are some activities that your child will be sure to have fun doing?  Even if these activities might seem mundane, they may alleviate stress for children with special needs.  Allot at least a small portion of your trip to your child’s preferences, and you will be able to navigate your own schedule much more easily.



Have a Plan B.


There may be times during the trip where your child may need to take a break with an adult.  Make alternate plans in advance: if you need to separate from the rest of your group, it will be helpful to know who will leave, who will stay, and when both parties will meet up again.  Vacations can present unexpected challenges, and your child’s reactions may be unpredictable.  Make sure you have the right tools in place to respond in any situation.



Take time to deal with your own anxieties.


As a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably already anticipating stress, judgment, and meltdowns.  But the likelihood is that, despite a few hiccups, your vacation will be a rewarding experience.  Before your trip, take time to deal with your parental anxieties through self-care.  Discuss your concerns with others, develop a plan, and be kind to yourself regardless of how events play out.  You have successfully met similar challenges in the past and will undoubtedly meet them again.






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