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Special Needs Onboard: Travel Tips For Kids With Challenges

Special Needs Onboard: Travel Tips For Kids With Challenges

Traveling with any kid is challenging. Add special behavioral needs to the mix, and getting from point A to point B can be more like navigating a mine field than an airport or the open road. When you leave home and its reassuringly predictable routine, whether you have a special needs kid or just one who gets antsy on the road, how do you prepare yourself and your child for the surprises of travel?

Circle of Moms member Kristin poses this very question in the Traveling With Children community: "Has anyone here traveled with a child who has behavioral issues caused by their special needs?" she asks.

According to Alison E., talking to the airline ahead of time is a must. Her son has behavioral issues and severe anxiety. She contacts the airlines well ahead of the scheduled departure day to request advice on how to accommodate his needs, and she shares that, "Some airlines allow you to bypass the lines."


She also tries to stay flexibile and thick skinned. "It is always nerve-wracking as you never know if he will act up. But just be prepared for the worst," she advises. Also: "Most importantly, don't worry about what anyone else says about your child because they don't know the situation and they have not walked a mile in your shoes."

Nicole S. has taken her son, who has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) to Uganda twice to accompany her on volunteer work. Getting there requires two days of flying and several layovers. She recommends taking a highly proactive approach with the people you encounter along the way.

"I was extra friendly to the people around me and apologized if things got tough for awhile. They were usually understanding and compassionate seeing (my) efforts," she posts.

She also stocks up on games for her son's portable system and brings out a new game to distract him whenever he becomes agitated. She packs lots of snacks and selects seats near the bathroom in the back of the plane in an effort to minimize any disturbance to other passengers. And last, she always brings melatonin to help her son fall asleep.

Shannon F., whose daughter has ADHD, also stockpiles distractions for long road trips: "The only way to keep her from not having a fit is to have something to do." Her arsenal includes a portable DVD player and loads of coloring books.

Angee S., a travel agent who is also a mom to an eight-year-old autistic son, recommends preparing your special needs child for travel by talking to him about the specific logistics of the trip in advance. She enlists the help of a training program called Social Stories, which is specificially targeted for children and adults on the autism spectrum.

"I read him Social Stories and books about flying so that he knows what to expect," she shares.

(Social Stories was invented by Carol Gray, founder of The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding in Grand Rapids, Mich. They are short stories depicting a particular social situation with the aim of teaching autistic children and adults the appropriate social behaviors and responses.)

Angee S. also purchases some "surprise" items and wraps them just for the trip. Whenever she needs to re-direct her son's attention from something that's bothering him, she doles out a surprise for him to unwrap.

Her other tactics include movies and strategic seating: "I also make sure he has a good stash of movies to choose from," she states, adding that "Sitting next to the window is a must, as he can watch the world go by, and I am a buffer to the rest of the plane."

Sarah D. recently took her three-year-old son with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) on his first flight. She read articles ahead of time, took her son to the airport before the day of their scheduled departure for a dry run (as far as the security gate), and arrived on the day of her family's flight in plenty of time to not be rushed through the process. "A little preparation goes a long way," she states.

From traveling with my own special needs son (13-year-old, Ian, has Asperger's), I would agree with all these moms that anticipating your child's needs goes a long way toward avoiding behavioral meltdowns. I have Ian select whatever entertainment items he wants to bring along in his carry-on backpack. I also make sure I have a credit card handy before getting seated so that I can rent a digital player for movies or television shows. And I try to just go with the flow: when, in spite of many reassurances, he remains anxious about whether our plane's on time, I encourage him to go to the gate agent to inquire directly. I take note of any food vendors en route from the security check point to the gate, since trying the airport's offerings shifts his focus away from all the boring, anxiety-provoking waiting involved in air travel. Yes, I admit it: when all else fails, distract them with munchies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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