3 Tips for Planning a Vacation with a Special Needs Child
Planning a trip for your family is hard work. Planning a trip with a special needs child that honors his or her needs while ensuring fun for all takes advance planning but isn’t impossible. You can plan and experience a trip that builds memories for your entire family.
One year, my mother gifted her children and grandchildren a weekend at Hilton Anatole and a visit to Medieval Times, which is conveniently located almost next door to the hotel. We met my aunt, cousins, and their children at the castle for a grand total of 28 visitors ranging from one year-old to over 65, including one young royal with autism.
Planning for Special Needs Travel with Kids
Tip 1: Don’t be scared!
Sometimes families shy away from trips or experiences because they are unsure how their children will respond or react in a new experience. Most importantly, you know your child. You know what experiences will be overwhelming or frightening. That is your strength, not your weakness, when planning your trip.
Be willing to try new things and present new situations, but keep in mind what your child is ready to experience. New things can be scary to children, especially those with sensory sensitivities. They can also be scary for parents who aren’t sure what to expect.
Tip 2: Do your research!
Know where you are going and what the experience will be like. Dive into search engines. Peruse YouTube. Ask friends and family about their experiences.
Medieval Times is a live dinner theater show in a large arena. There are horses running, falcons flying, strobe lights, cheering, jousting, sword fights, and tournament games. Basically, it is sensory overload trying to keep up with the sights and sounds going on around you. It is definitely not the place to take someone who can be easily overwhelmed with sensory stimulation without some advance planning and work.
Beginning about a month in advance, we started talking preparing our family’s special needs child for the experience. We talked about what Medieval Times was like. What could the guests expect to happen? What would we see and hear? What would we smell and eat? What is acceptable behavior at Medieval Times? Watching videos of others’ experiences helped prepare us for the experience while remaining in a familiar and safe environment.
Tip 3: Enlist help!
You aren’t in this alone! Whether you are traveling in a group of 28 (or more!) or on a small family trip, divide the duties so that one person isn’t responsible for everything and have scheduled times where the jobs switch. This will help reduce the chances of frustration and job burnout.
Even small children can accept “jobs” that help the entire family. On our trip, the jobs ranged based on ages. Older children and teens sat next to the youngest guests, helped them get their drinks and made sure they didn’t spill any food. Younger children were responsible for finding the best souvenirs to purchase and keeping a watch out for royalty and knights to take pictures. I always task each of my daughters with knowing where the other one is: Don’t let your sister get lost!
Traveling with children with special needs doesn’t mean you can’t do all of the activities you’ve been dreaming about. You will spend some extra time planning your trip and preparing for new experiences, but the joy of seeing the wonder of travel on your children’s faces will be worth it!
You may also enjoy:
- 8 Tips for Traveling with Disabilities
- How the Disney Disability Access Service Works
- Navigating NYC with a Child on the Autism Spectrum
- Introducing a Child on the Autism Spectrum to Skiing
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Heather and her family were born and raised in east Texas, where she is an assistant principal. Her husband teaches high school chemistry and her daughters are…