Traveling with our children can be educational, magical and down right crazy. In the best of circumstances I would say a family of 4 can expect one meltdown by one person a day, if we are lucky!
Children love to travel and soak up so much when we take them places. When our children have special needs, the traveling becomes more difficult to plan and research, but it can be full of surprises and memories you won't have wanted to miss.
No matter where your family goes the best way to travel with our children is to research and plan extensively. Knowing what to expect is essential for everyone. There are family vacation specialist out there that can help you plan the perfect vacation to meet the needs of your child, at no cost at all to you, One such example is Second Star Travel( www.secondstartravel.net ), where family vacations are their specialty, they can help you with any needs your family may have, and will be there for you 24/7 from the time you start planning until you get back. The owner is a teacher with 24 years under her belt and 17 of those in special education. She also has three children of her own.
Below are a few examples of possible ways to minimize any problems that can be encountered when traveling with a child with special needs.
For a family who wants to go to Disney, and has a child on the autism spectrum, they should prepare the child by talking about the sights, sounds and events will happen while they are at the parks. They can expose the child to parades, a carnival, or by showing them the Disney planning videos. At the park, they can go for short two hour spurts, staying on-site to maximize their time. Using the pool or anyplace to wind down during the day. They can take items with them to the park that will help the child calm themselves, if things start to get out of hand for them (a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or clothes item).
A prearranged quiet spots where they can go to, like the small areas around the castle that are away from everything, can be a life saver. If your child wants to meet a character prepare them for the sheer size of most of them. Tell the handler if your child is afraid of sudden moves, so the character will know how to approach your child. Mainly, my best suggestion would be not go during vacation times or Holiday times, when it is extremely crowded.
A child with mobility problems, can have a special van pick the family up at the airport with a child size scooter or wheelchair already there waiting for them. Hotels in Disney provide free refrigerators for insulin with a doctors note. There are special entrances to rides for people with disabilities or wheelchairs, though proper documentation from a doctor needs to be provided. These entrances may not cut down the wait in line, but might be quieter, and away from the crowd and sometimes heat. To get these passes at Disney you must go to guest services and ask for a "guest assistance pass".
Please, let the hotel management know if your child needs anything, they will be happy to help in anyway they can, like with bed rails, adjoining room or an wheelchair accessible room. Make sure that you have plenty of help. Bring along grandma, an uncle, just another set of eye and hands, to help out. This is a vacation and everyone deserves to have a few moments to relax. FYI, Universal Studios in Orlando also has a guest assistance pass for families to use, but it must be picked up daily.
Many families with children with disabilities find traveling to beach resorts is easier. Again, finding a place where there are not huge crowds of people, would be the best option. There are companies out there that rent beach wheelchairs and beach items for children and adults that have mobility concerns.
All inclusive resorts are great for all children, because there is so much to do. If your child is able to handle going to a kids club, take them at a time where it isn't overly crowded, make sure the staff knows your child's triggers, and make sure the beeper or cell they give you is working properly. Again in this situation make sure the child has been prepared on what they might be doing, and how long they will be there. Again, try to avoid busy times at these resorts when it is a mad house, and there are ten people to one beach chair.
Cruises can be a great time for everyone. The best suggestion is to stay with the bigger newer ships that will have more accessible accommodations and more amenities that will help our children. These larger ships have public areas and staterooms large enough for wheelchairs, often including an accessible bathroom with handrails and emergency call buttons. Elevators buttons, room numbers, and restaurant menus are Braille coded, and guide dogs are widely welcomed. For the hearing impaired, ships offer telephone amplifiers, visual knockers and smoke detectors and text based telephones. Some ships offer "dippers" to lower swimmers with disabilities into the pools.
Cruises are great for children with food allergies, where one can speak to an executive chef about them and have a menu made for the child and that includes making sure there is no cross contamination. If your child attends a kids club, let the counselors know about anything that upsets your child, and the quickest way to contact you. I can not stress enough to prepare your child about what to expect. There is a great company for rentals from oxygen to wheelchairs that will have your items at the ship waiting for you, if needed.
Make sure you talk to your child about what they should expect. Let them be part of the planning. They know what they would feel comfortable doing, so let them help, if they can. Make sure that you do not promise something that can not be accomplished like seeing a character, that is no longer at the park, or seeing Dolphins in the ocean if you aren't going to a Dolphin encounter.
Make sure you travel with the "bag of tricks", Usually items that help entertain, calm or nourish your child. You may want to add sunglasses or earplugs for children who do not like brightness or loud sounds. Don't expect perfection. Whenever you travel with children, it's best to "expect the unexpected," or at least leave room for something to pop up.
Traveling with our children only happens for a short time. They grow up and then we have lot the opportunity, traveling builds tolerance and experiences we can not give them by staying at home. Our memories of traveling with our kids will last a lifetime, and those smiles are burned forever into our memories.
Below are some links for traveling with special needs children.
TSA traveling with children with disabilities http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/editorial_1572.shtm