I remember the moment clearly. We were 1 hour into a 5 hour flight. The skies outside were beautiful blue with soft white clouds. It was serene and calm. Totally unlike what was going on in our aisle.
My 12 year old autistic son, who was prone to aggressive meltdowns, had just told me he wanted to get off the flight, NOW. Right now.
Inside, I was headed towards total panic. I could image the headlines. Flight lands in Iowa fields to remove an out of control child and his mother. Autistic child throws luggage around plane during major meltdown. Passengers sue family of out of control child, and so on.
However, I took a deep breath. You’re prepared, I reminded myself, you got this. And I smiled and said, “But we haven’t played cards yet.” I reached into my bag and brought out his favorite treat, a couple of games, and a special drink. My bag was almost magical with how many treats, games, and movies it held to keep his attention.
Preparing for a family vacation with special needs children is not only smart, it is critical for mission success. Notice I didn’t say relaxing vacation. I’m not sure I’ve had one of those with children yet. I’ll let you know if it happens.
- Don’t Forget Medications Having enough medication for your entire trip, plus a few days in case of an emergency, is critical to vacation success. Running out of medicine in another state, or country, can be a nightmare. Don’t ask how I know this, it wasn’t pretty.
- Prepare Your Child for the Trip We once had a long road trip planned with friends of ours. We knew they wouldn’t want to go to McDonald’s for every meal (the only place our son would eat) so we worked on expanding his food choices before the trip. It wasn’t perfect, but he did eat mashed potatoes in a restaurant in Amish country. A major victory in our home. If your child has never camped, sleep in a sleeping bag at home to experience it. Think of ways to prepare him or her for the new experiences.
- Review the Itinerary It helps if you prepare your child for the places and experiences they will be having as well. If you only tell them about the water park you will see, they will be reluctant to visit the museum everyone else was looking forward to. Explain your method of travel as well. If you are traveling for long hours, ask them what they would like to do during that time. Prepare them for it, but stay positive while talking to them.
- Pack the Bag You know the bag, that magical bag of favorite movies, treats, books, and activities. I always throw in a few new movies and games as well. A long car ride or airplane ride is not a good place for a meltdown because they are bored. And a favorite familiar toy can be a comfort far from home and routine.
- The Magical Pool We only stay at hotels with a pool. Why? Because our kids love water and they need to move after a long car ride. Having a night swim to look forward to is one of the things my kids love about vacation. Even when staying with friends, we know where the local pool is and will often visit it the day we arrive.
Being prepared for a trip with special needs children takes some work, but it is definitely worth it. Our family has some great memories that were only possible because of good planning and a willingness to adapt. Levi was calm for the rest of that long flight across the country, but it was because we prepared before hand.
Now excuse me, I need to go check on med refills.