Is travelling with children with special needs really that different? Not really. When we travel with our six children, five of whom have special needs, we are more careful in the planning and execution of our vacations. Because we require two hotel rooms, we always contact the hotel directly and request connecting rooms. This ensures that there is only one access to the hallway from our room because one of our children sleepwalks. The second room door remains bolted at all times. We also ensure that we have a small refrigerator in the room for quick snacks and/or beverages.
Our children’s diagnoses vary, from ADHD to global delays to Autism, each requiring special considerations such as being more sensitive to their environment. Although the thunder during the luau at SeaWorld startled our middle daughter, she was still thrilled to be on stage doing her version of the hula. If children are afraid of loud or sudden noises, take into consideration experiences that could frighten them such as the Indiana Jones attraction at Disney World. Our choices of attractions tend to be on the “mild” side on purpose. Our more daring children “buddy up” to experience the more exciting rides. This ensures everyone can fully enjoy their vacation.
Some popular vacation destinations are making improvements for individuals with special needs. Since some of our children have a limited attention span, we can take advantage of special offers at some attractions. SeaWorld and Busch Gardens offer price reductions for children with special needs and their parent/caregiver. One resort in St. Petersburg, Florida, allows children with Autism to bring their service animal so no one is left behind. The inspirational movie “Dolphin Tale” was filmed nearby and allows visits. We tour an amusement park at a slower pace giving everyone a chance to look at the scenery and enjoy the weather.
Another great option for families to consider is a cruise. The majority of ships itineraries have children’s programs available by age and abilities. A “moving resort” reduces wait times for activities and allows families to take breaks whenever they need.
Learning happens everywhere. To maintain gains acquired during the school year, we ask that our children keep a journal during their summer vacation. This helps with their observation skills, keeps them engaged and prepares them for a potential summer vacation presentation once school starts.
As Travel Counsellors and parents, we have heard many stories on how families respond to the needs of their children. A vacation may require a bit more forethought in planning. When it doesn’t go according to the plan, you may have to make some quick adaptations. In the end, it is all worth it to see the smiles on our children’s faces.
Jerry and Alain Goudreault