Travelling with Children

Published on May 18th, 2011 | by Emma Hackwood


Travelling with a Special Needs Child: Part Two

DSC01684Last week, Jennifer MacDonald shared with us her tips on travelling with a special needs child. Her advice and suggestions come from many years of trial and error of travelling with her family which includes her daughter that is on the Autism spectrum.  After realizing that there wasn’t much of an online resource for other parents seeking advice on travelling, she’s taken it upon herself to help others by writing a three-part series. This week, she covers what you’ll need leading up to the trip and the apps that helped her along the way:

It’s up to you if you want to involve your child in the planning of the vacation.  We don’t tell my daughter ahead of time because she doesn’t understand the passage of time and would pester us relentlessly until it was time to go.  As I mentioned, her receptive language skills are just fine so she often knows that something is up.  She often starts asking to go to the beach weeks before our vacation is scheduled.  If your child needs/likes to know about things in advance or enjoys counting down to an event, be sure to let them know and think of fun ways to pass the days until it’s time to depart.

The day we are leaving I give my daughter a booklet I’ve put together.  It’s usually about 5 or 6 pages and contains brief sentences and pictures to let her know what our day is going to look like.  The one I put together for our recent trip looks something like this:

  • -Eat lunch
  • -Put luggage in the car
  • -Drive to the airport
  • -Wait in line
  • -Go through security
  • -Sit until it’s time to get on the plane
  • -Get on the plane
  • -Put on our seatbelt
  • -Watch the DVD player
  • -Fly to [insert destination]
  • -Get off the plane
  • -Wait in line (if you have to go through Customs)
  • -Pick up our luggage
  • -Get on the bus
  • -Drive to the hotel

This helps her understand what is happening during the day and helps to alleviate any anxiety she has when we deviate from our regular schedule.

If you are heading off to visit friends or family be sure to add pictures of them so your child knows who they are going to see once they get there.  Also, if your child likes to plan ahead you can have your child help you put the booklet together while you talk about your upcoming trip.

We’ve had great success with electronics for our daughter.  There are a growing number of applications that have been developed for the iPod, iPhone and iPad for children with special needs.  A very comprehensive list has been put together here.

We use several different communication applications as well as some sensory and educational applications loaded on the iPad and iPod Touch.


She still loves Dora the Explorer and videos hold her interest so she has a portable DVD player that we bring with us.  We’ve also invested in an additional battery pack – just in case.  We have also loaded the iPod with music and Dora episodes for those times when a DVD player would be too cumbersome.

We’ve solved the eating in restaurants issue by letting her listen to music or watch episodes of Dora during meal times.  By focussing on the iPod she’s able to block out the noise and crowds of a restaurant and eat her meals.  We get some looks from people for letting her have headphones on in the restaurant but to us it’s better than the alternative.

Have more questions for Jennifer? Feel free to leave them in the comment section below and be sure to stay tuned for Part 3 of her series next Wednesday.

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About the Author

Emma Hackwood

a freelance copywriter, amateur glider pilot and full-time adventure seeker, has travelled extensively in pursuit of her lifelong dream of simply seeing it all. Up to over 50 countries, she lists American Samoa and the seldom visited Marquesas Islands as her current favourite destinations, with a wandering eye on Guam and Tonga to complete her Pacific escapades.

0 Responses to Travelling with a Special Needs Child: Part Two

  1. Excellent post. I do much the same with Mr 10, who is certainly a lot better as he is getting older and learning a bit more about life and patience. I find it imperative to remind him that things may change – the flights might be delayed or cancelled, that our hotel room might not be exactly the way it looks in the photo, that if it storms we may not be able to do a. and b. It's the unfamiliar stuff with travel that unsettles him.
    And it's also basic stuff, like what the toilets will be like (he's a clean freak), what there will be to eat etc.
    I kind of do a story for him each time, which he can take with him to check if it all gets too overwhelming.
    I must admit, I've been wanting to take my kids to Bangkok, where a very dear friend lives. But I'm scared that the noise, the crowds, the smells etc, will be all too much for him. C. has Aspergers, ADD, anxiety and a little OCD. Advice?

    • Jennifer says:

      Obviously you know your son best and can judge how well he'd do on a vacation like this but some things to consider include:

      Noise cancelling headphones for when he's out on the street.  Alternatively, if he likes music he could listen to that.  It helps block the sounds and also helps give him a focus. 

      While travelling around Bangkok forego the Tuk Tuk and make sure you use a car/taxi.  This will also help to insulate him from the crowds and the noise and give him time to decompress between outings.

      Make sure you have a place where he can go if he needs to get away from everything.  Whether it is a quiet room, a corner with his own things, etc.   Bring things from home (including food) that are familiar.  Travelling can be very overwhelming so he might need some place where he feels safe. 

      Does he have any interests that you can translate into things to see and do in Bangkok?  If he loves boats, there is the floating market; oceans, there is Siam Ocean World; architecture, the temples; etc.

      Depending on his needs and his anxiety you may want to talk to him prior to the vacation and ask him what he thinks about going.  It's a fine line to walk and only you'll know how much or how little information to give him.  You want to tell him enough to let him know what's happening, but not too much that it will send him into a panic attack about the upcoming trip.

      Really think about the purpose of your vacation.  If you have a desire to see the sites of Bangkok and you're going to be out and about all day, every day it might be too much for him.  But if you want to see your friend and spend time together and are ok with the fact that it may just mean hanging out at home or the hotel, you could probably make it work.

      Good luck.

  2. Pingback: Travelling with a Special Needs Child: Part Three | Flight Centre Canada Blog

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