Well, we did it. My family made its first strides in taking trips, and took a 14 hour drive to Florida to go to Walt Disney World Orlando… Our 14 hour drive quickly became about 23 hours, due to unforeseen car trouble and the things that just happen when you travel with kids who have special needs.
My daughter has autism, and even trips to our local mall can be a nightmare if she's not having a good day. I love my daughter, bless her, but man, things can become hard, fast. And we made many, MANY mistakes this time around on this trip. But, now we know, and we can correct our mistakes for the next time around.
10 Bring Familiar Objects
Sometimes, the familiarity of home can be a huge comfort to a special needs child. My daughter has autism, and although she is usually very high functioning, long drives stress her out and not having certain toys, her pillow, her blanket, that can really stress her out. Even having her favorite movie there for her to watch can make the difference between a trip filled with meltdowns versus a more pleasant experience.
9 Allot Time For Stops
You're going to need to do this for a child who does not have special needs anyhow, but for special needs kids, you may need to make more stops than even you were thinking. If they're in diapers, and they have a lot of drink, you'll need to make time for potty breaks. Then you've got leg breaks so that restless littles can stretch their legs. You need to make time for food, and it's safer to eat inside to prevent choking, so add an hour for that every time you stop. In the end, you'll need that time. Trust me.
8 Don't Forget Medical Supplies
I made this mistake just last week when we went on vacation… my youngest, along with having autism, also has an immune deficiency known as IGA deficiency. She does not fight off infections well. I had packed her inhaler in the diaper bag, but her other meds, and there is a list, aren't an everyday thing, and although I had bagged them, I left them on the table. What's the worst that can happen, right? Well, my baby girl got sick midway through our trip. We were out of town, her insurance didn't cover any places near us, and she needed prescription strength meds… Even just using her nebulizer every night could have helped, but we were an hour away when we remembered it and didn't think she'd need it. We know better for the next time, but it really sucked when we were trying to help her out while we were there. Make a checklist and double check it before you leave, but make sure those medical supplies make it into the vehicle.
7 Familiarize Them With The Settings
We went to Florida, so I couldn't exactly take her down to the Florida Keys and see how she did for a few hours, however I was able to pull up pictures of our hotel and resort on my computer and showed it to her for 2 weeks before we left. I showed her pictures of Disney World and all of the rides. I even showed her pictures of Orlando itself so she could see the surrounding area. It helped, surprisingly enough. It made a visible difference in her settling in. Sometimes just making them familiar with the place and helping them to adjust before you leave, can make a lot of difference.
6 Games And Activities
For the trip down, and even for downtime in the hotel, having some games or things to do can be a life saver. We brought coloring books and crayons because our child's favorite activity so happens to be coloring, but even some basic phone apps or tablet apps can make a long drive or plane ride more bearable. And letting them hold all this stuff in their own personal carry bag can give them some of the independence that they love to have.
5 Have Some Kind Of Routine
While, yeah, the normal routine is going to go out of the window, having some kind of routine for them to have some structure can be a great thing. Even if it's just waking up at the same time, doing the same morning thing, then coming back to the hotel and doing the same thing every night to get ready for bed, even that little bit of structure can work wonders for a cranky child, especially one that thrives on routine like my youngest does.
4 Don't Forget Comfort Items
It's a nightmare when they're missing at home, but it's more of a nightmare when you're trying to get by for a week without it… whether it's a stuffed bear, a blankie, or a special pacifier, have what you need. Some children, especially those with special needs, are dependent on these items in order to even function properly sometimes… going without them can be a nightmare. Write a small list, reminding you of what comfort items are 100% necessary, and check it twice, just like St. Nick would do. It'll make your whole trip much easier for all involved.
3 Expect The Unexpected
If there's one thing I've learned from traveling with my daughters, one with autism and sensory processing disorder, and one with ADHD, it's this… nothing will go as planned. Your bathroom breaks will take three times longer than expected. There will be meltdowns. There will be crying over literally nothing. And sometimes, you need to walk away, so to speak, go with the flow, and just let things work themselves out. If you keep yourself on a strict schedule, you will be sorely disappointed when things fly off into left field.
2 Practice, Practice, Practice!
For some children, taking the time to practice something that you know could induce a meltdown can make all the difference. If you're worried about how the check-in process for a flight will be, for example… call your airline and see if you can do a 'practice run'. Some places will allow you to do a faux boarding process when you have a child who needs to know more about what's coming. And it can also help you, as well, because you'll have a chance to learn what triggers will bother your child the most and what will go smoothly, so you'll know when you'll need to step in. Practice makes, well, not perfect, but as close as you're going to get.
1 Know What You Need And Where To Get It
This is essential. If you're going to need something, and you can't bring it with you, you need to know where to get one, how much it costs, and how you'll get it to where you need it. For example, strollers, or a motorized scooter if you need to leave yours at home. Even hairbrushes, special soaps or shampoos, special diapers… you'll need to know if the nearest place to get them is 50 miles away or right outside your hotel doors. Knowledge is one of the keys to a peaceful trip.
So, yes, while these kinds of trips can be difficult, once you learn what works for your family, you'll be able to pull it off without blinking an eye, and it'll be almost like second nature. Everything gets easier with practice, so don't be a shut-in… have an adventure into the great wide world with your kids! See all there is to see! Because just like you can't learn what they need unless you take the first steps, they won't know how to behave or act if you don't put them in the proper situations. It'll be easier in the long run if they're exposed to these kinds of things young. So, as I said, get out there and explore!