Travelling with a Special Needs Child: Part Two

by Emma Hackwood

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 who 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 focusing 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.

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