12 Holiday Travel Tips for Families with Special Needs
By Guest Blogger Sara Croft, Media Relations and Marketing Manager, Easter Seals Crossroads
End of year holidays often require traveling to visit friends and family who live far away. Spending many hours in the car or getting on an airplane can be challenging for families with special needs. Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis has compiled tips from their behavior analysts, therapists and respite providers that can help make holiday traveling a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Before the airport:
- Make sure you pack everything your child might want/need in a carry-on bag, including a change of clothes. Create a sensory pack with their favorite calming toy, stuffed animal, object or blanket. Sensory items are a great relief for kids who may become anxious due to first time traveling and fear of the unknown.
- Discuss what the experience of the ticket counter and the security check might be like to the child before you arrive at the airport. You could simply talk to the child about it, discuss it with them, or use social stories to aid in the explanation.
- Make sure you call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before the boarding the plane to ask any questions you may have. A TSA Passenger Support Specialist can be requested to provide on-the-spot assistance. The TSA has a helpline for individuals with special needs. (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support)
- Try to book flights when your child is generally the most able to handle a change in routine. For many children this may be in the morning when they are not tired and overwhelmed from a long day.
- Ask your doctor for a letter describing your child’s condition especially if your child has an “invisible condition” such as autism. It might be helpful to show documentation of the disability to airport security or flight attendants. Visit the TSA’s website and print the disability notification card that you can present at the TSA screening. (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures)
At the airport and on the plane:
- To make your walk to the gate easier, approach the check-in or information desk to ask for a ride or shuttle to your terminal.
- Inform TSA of your child’s disability and how they might react to security screening or waiting in long lines. Most airports have a family line or will allow the parent and child to be screened together.
- It might be a good idea to bring noise cancelling headphones for the airport and the plane to help drown out some of the loud noise in the airport and the airplane. Sunglasses can block out the harsh bright light in airports and create a calmer environment.
- Bring your child’s favorite music or no mess activity to keep them entertained on the plane. Colorful string beads, bags of beads, and items that light up are great additions for the traveling sensory pack.
On the road trip:
- If your child escapes from their seat easily consider getting covers for the seat belt buckles and remember to check the child locks on the door.
- Make sure your child is prepared for the road trip by creating a social story about the trip to read for them. This story may need to be read several times prior to the actual trip.
- Have a visual aid to represent how many hours you have traveled and how many are left. A timer can help your child countdown the hours or minutes until the next stop or activity.
These tips can make holiday traveling easier for children, their parents, and other passengers. It is never too early to plan ahead, no matter how far your trip will take you. For more information, visit the transportation section of Disability.gov to start planning your trip today.
About the Guest Blogger
Sara Croft is a community advocate, fundraiser and Indianapolis adventurer. She grew up Terre Haute, Indiana, attended Indiana State University and graduated in the class of 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History. Sara received two post-graduate internships in Indianapolis and was hired in the field of marketing and community outreach at Easter Seals Crossroads. Sara has continued to work for Easter Seals Crossroads in assistive technology, community outreach, media relations and marketing. In her spare time, she is often freelance writing for Visit Indy and is organizing her neighbors to create the future Keystone-Monon Community Garden. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.