Take the Whole Family
- Learn to Choose the Right Vacation for Your Family
- Break Down the Hows, Whats and Wheres of Your Destination
- Plan Ahead for Your Special Needs (Handicap Accommodations and More)
- Consider the Weather and Other Challenges You Might Face
- Find Out How to Maximize the Fun for Your Entire Family
Everybody needs a change of scenery now and then. Vacations allow the mind and body to recharge from stress and fatigue; and it's nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life with a family vacation. Remember that kids need vacation time too: school can be hard work! That means you should feel empowered to travel to near and far destinations and spend quality time with your entire family, including children with special needs. Enjoy the good food, fun and bonding that vacation offers; whether that vacation takes you to the beach, an amusement park, camping in the woods or cruising our Earth's beautiful rivers, lakes and oceans.
What is the right vacation for your family?
Skydiving or climbing Mount Everest might not be the perfect fit for your family vacation, especially if you're traveling with young children. But rest assured that there are many family-friendly vacation options offering both adventure and education. If you're interested in taking a day trip or two, consider biking in a nearby park. Whatever the needs and abilities of your child, there is a bike that can accommodate him or her. For more information about choosing the right bike, check out Auntie Em's Pearl of Wisdom "Riding Your Bike: a Pastime for Every Child." Biking together can be a great activity at campgrounds too.
If there's an amusement park or beach in your plans, check with park/beach operators to make sure that bathrooms and snack areas are readily available and handicapped accessible. If your child uses a wheelchair, there are all-terrain vehicles on the market that can allow him or her to experience beachy, snowy and rugged destinations. Hippocampe is a durable, lightweight, all-terrain wheelchair that transitions easily from water to dry land. Landeez is another option that allows for quick maneuvering in tight spaces. Both wheelchairs are easy to clean and transport.
If you're interested in traveling to more exotic destinations, always keep the special conditions needed by your child in mind. Can he cope with climate changes? For instance, "rainy season" can make for muddy roads and mosquitoes, while "beach season" can be extremely hot. Many facilities lack air-conditioning or undergo frequent power outages. Is your child more comfortable in cool, dry places? Does he require wheelchair access to transportation, hotels, restaurants and more? Does he become agitated in crowds, at heights or when his regular routine is altered? If your answer to any of these questions is "yes," you'll need to pay careful attention to the details of each family-friendly destination you consider. Ask yourself, "Are there fun activities for my child and me at this getaway spot?" A child who uses adaptive equipment that won't work when it gets wet or sandy probably won't enjoy a day at the beach.
Get your child involved in planning the family vacation for two reasons: 1. it will help you make an informed decision about where to go and what to do, and 2. it will help your child learn to make and successfully execute travel plans. My Smart Budget is a terrific way to incorporate your child and save money by enabling him to control his own vacation spending so that you're not constantly feeling like you have to fork over money for souvenirs and gifts during your trip.
There are travel agents who specialize in making arrangements for families with disabled members. If your travel agent claims to be a "full service agent," ask him what that means. Do you arrange travel itineraries for families with disabled children? What types of disabilities do you specialize in? Can you recommend someone who is an expert at handicapped accessible vacationing?
So many questions…and we've got the answers.
How will you be traveling? By car or bus? Airplane? Railroad? The privacy your car offers might make automobile travel seem like your best bet. But if you're going a long distance, plane or train travel will help you maximize your fun time. Any way you slice it, you're going to want to consider several things: space, activity and pit stops along the way.
Does your child need to eat every three hours? If so, pack healthy snacks or map out a route that offers multiple break locations. Avoid sugary treats before and during long rides as they tend to make it more difficult for children to sit still. As with dining out, bring along your "going out" bag, full of quiet toys, tissues, hand sanitizer, etc. Make sure your child has ample books, songs, and perhaps a portable DVD player to occupy him during the trip. These might also come in handy when you're waiting in long lines for rides at parks or snacks at the food court.
If your child gets restless or claustrophobic easily, you'll need to distract him or offer him places to spread out and perhaps even run around. Consult your family physician or therapist about the best ways to calm an easily agitated or frightened child. Likewise, speak to your healthcare professionals about diapering on vacation. If your child is over 40 lbs. and requires diaper changes, make sure that rest areas have special stalls that will accommodate a diaper change; or be sure that you pack enough disposable covers or a foam mat for hotel beds or floors where you might be doing some necessary changing and bathing. One tip for emergencies, especially if you're at an airport or depot, is to ask emergency personnel where the first aid station is located. Quite often, this area will provide you with a quiet, private place to assist your child with his bathroom needs.
When traveling by train or air, make sure your child knows what to expect. Practice the stages of travel starting days or even weeks before your vacation begins: packing suitcases, loading the car, checking the luggage, going through security, boarding the train or plane and getting off at a new place. If your mode of transportation has high levels of security, make sure to dress your child in easy-to-remove clothing such as coats and sweaters with plastic zippers and slip-on shoes. Avoid letting him carry or wear any metal objects, which tend to set off scary alarms. Give your child the opportunity to exercise and cool down before boarding. If the area you're in doesn't lend itself to running and jumping, practice stretching and seated exercises together, as a family. Make this process a fun part of your vacation with a positive attitude.
If your child uses a communication device such as GoTalk 4 +, Macaw 5, One by Four Talker, Spinning Communicator or Personal Communication Book; update the device to include vacation terms such as "pool," "park," "beach," etc. Encourage a child who writes or draws to keep a journal of the family trip. Pack plenty of disposable cameras, which allow him to focus on each exciting event as it occurs. If your child isn't nervous about meeting new people wearing costumes or masks, bring along an autograph book to places where kids interact with their favorite cartoon characters in person.
If you’re vacationing at a resort with an indoor or outdoor pool, make sure to pack all of the adaptive aquatic equipment you’ll need including: rafts, swim jackets, pool toys and more. But don’t forget to call the resort ahead of time to make sure it permits the use of such items. If you’ll be getting wet under the sun, don’t forget your sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats and wheelchair canopies for shade when you’re drying off.
Consider visiting museums, parks and aquariums after you get to your final destination. Many places offer handicapped guests the option to skip long lines or wait in a comfortable seating area instead of standing amongst crowds.
What does "handicapped accessible" really mean?
It's okay to get personal. Don't rely exclusively on information you find on the Internet, which may be outdated or misleading. If a hotel Web site tells you that rooms are handicapped accessible, call the hotel ahead of time and speak to someone onsite. Voice your concerns. Does the bathroom have a shower with seat? Is the door wide enough for a wheelchair? Ask hotel personnel to check the room while you wait on the phone. This is especially important if you're planning on taking a cruise, because, once aboard and embarked, there's no turning back. Remember: vacation services are there to work for you, and people in the tourism industry know that if you, the customer, are happy, you'll be back again for more fun soon.
One way to maximize comfort for your child is to bring along strollers and seats that support his body. The Metro Transport stroller comes in three different sizes and is lightweight, foldable and supportive. Popular with parents and therapists, the Therapedic™ Vehicle Restrain System - Positioning Car Seat is perfect for long trips. It fits in most cars, vans, school buses and airplanes; and it comes complete with a 5-point safety harness, shoulder harness pads, tether strap kit, crotch strap pad, adjustable head pads, lateral positioning pads, and easy-to-follow instructions. Most importantly, it's extremely comfortable for travelers with special needs. The Therapedic™ Vehicle Restraint System - Mobility Base, which will allow you to use the seat as a stroller with a simple twist and click, is a sturdy, efficient addition to your travel reserve. By purchasing or renting adaptive strollers and seats, you enable the comfort and safety of your child without limiting the quality and quantity of his or her vacation activities.
As you may know, specific special needs associations - such as the Autism Society, the American Society for Deaf Children, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Spina Bifida Society and more - are great resources for parents. Association Web sites might not offer vacation tips; but don't let that stop you from contacting other association parents to share information. Get online to start making that personal connection, which can help you cope and expand your family's horizons in many ways.
Vacation time can be great family time. Remember to leave your stress at home, not your kids!