Holiday Travel Tips for Kids with Special Needs
The holidays are right around the corner and for many families this means that a road trip or an airplane ride is inevitable. Some things one must understand and take into consideration when traveling with a child that has sensory processing challenges is that consistency and structure is very calming and organizing, and change causes anxiety and is very disorganizing to the nervous system. Not only is change an obstacle, but hypersensitivity to noises and/or touch as well as sensory seeking behaviors such as constant movement or craving deep pressure. This makes traveling by car or airplane especially challenging.
Car and Airplane Travel Tips:
- Pack or purchase at the airport calming snacks that provide organizing oral input: crunchy and chewy snacks, (pretzels, carrot sticks, apples, bagels, beef jerky, fruit roll ups, gum) water bottles that have a straw or sport spout that requires sucking, use straws to eat pudding, yogurt, apple sauce or smoothies. Don’t forget personal chewies or vibrating oral tools (pack more than one)
- Pack a variety of fidget toys (stress ball, Koosh ball, Magna Doodle, Legos, spinner, Rubix cube, Thera band tied to adjacent car structure or arm rest in an airplane, etc.)
- Pack sensory tools (I pad and charger, head phones, ear plugs, weighted lap sock/pad or blanket, soothing music and I pod, compression vest, DVD player, small blanket and pillow to create a sensory retreat)
- Car Travel: Pack fresh food with allot of protein and avoid fast food and preservatives as much as possible and let your child hold and manipulate the cold pack as needed to decrease anxiety or stress
- Car Seating: If your child is sensitive to sound or touch then have your child sit toward the back of the car behind siblings if possible. This positioning is much quieter and provides for more personal space. Have a parent or someone who can provide as needed sensory input sit next to the child if possible. Position the child in the middle when possible so the child can see out the front window.
- Decrease car sickness by covering adjacent windows with a window screen
- Airplane Seating: If your child is sensitive to touch then have your child sit next to the window away from the isle and request to sit in the front to limit stress and the amount of people bothered in the event of screaming or a meltdown. If you didn’t pack one, ask the attendant for a blanket and pillow so that you can create a small sensory retreat in the event of a meltdown
- Car travel movement breaks: Take frequent sensory or movement breaks every hour if possible (stopping at parks when possible) and encourage the kids to run, jump, and really move. Don’t wait for a meltdown to stop for a break. This has the potential to start a pattern of meltdown = break vs. staying calm = break
- Airplane movement breaks: While in the airport or during a layover, encourage the kids to run, jump, and really move. When it is safe to do so on the plane, remove the child’s seatbelt so that they can reposition their body, sit cross legged, stand to stretch, and even pace the isle as needed.
- Toileting on an airplane: Avoid flushing the toilet on an airplane with your child present. The volume and sound of the flushing toilet on an airplane may trigger a meltdown. Walk your child back to their seat and then return to flush or ask the attendant to assist you in flushing once you are far enough away from the restroom.