Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Traveling with Special Needs Kids
How to plan a safe and sound vacation

by Carrie Bishop

March 01, 2012

A lot goes into planning a family vacation. There’s picking the destination, making travel plans, finding good lodging, packing, not to mention going and doing. Now add a child with special needs to the mix. What more do you need to think of? As it turns out, a whole lot. Read on:

Game Plan

First thing’s first: who wants to go where? Discuss everyone’s ideal vacation and come to a happy medium that takes into account your child’s abilities. Be honest about what the child can do, likes to do, and how much it would tax him. Disney World is a hot spot for many families, but if your child has a disorder like chronic fatigue syndrome, a three-day tour of the theme park may not be smart.

Travel Agents

Travel agents can make life easier, especially for families strapped on time. Some travel agents even specialize in booking trips for families with special needs.

Jani Nayar, executive coordinator of the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH), warns that some people who offer travel services for special needs families lack much-needed experience. She says a few companies now certify travel agents in this niche through basic training on accessible travel. Is basic knowledge enough though?

“Several people say they are experts. I have been working in this field since 1994 and still I wouldn’t call myself an expert because every time I talk with someone with a disability, I learn something new,” she said. She says the family should make sure the agent is knowledgeable and experienced. Her recommendation is to ask the agent for references and follow up with those families to make sure the agent legitimately understands how to help families with special needs. SATH posts a list of vetted travel agents at

Air Travel

Before taking to the skies, Nayar says to know your rights - what you can and cannot do - before you travel. Also, if you run into problems with the airline along the way ask to speak with the Complaints Resolutions Officer (CRO). Every airline is required to have a person readily available to work with you. She says CROs are trained on how to serve passengers with special needs. It may be worthwhile to speak with the CRO in advance of the trip so you have correct information from the get go.

Holly Paauwe, parent liaison with About Special Kids, recently took a trip to LA with her family. Her daughter, 6, is in a wheelchair. From carry-ons to diaper changing, she thought she had thought of everything. Yet by the time she, her husband, 10-year-old son, daughter, one car seat, diaper bag, laptops, camera, and all the medically necessary carry-ons made it onboard she realized her daughter did not have ample legroom, a concern because she has seizures that can make her stiffen. “We made it through, but my husband held her most of the time,” she said. On the way home she requested bulkhead seating.

It’s also a good idea to carry medicine with you to avoid extreme temperatures in the baggage compartment which can reduce the effectiveness of the medications. Also keep a copy of your prescription handy in the event airport security needs to see it, especially if your medication requires a syringe.

Road Trips

When traveling by car, Paauwe says an appropriate supportive car seat for your child is important. “Kids with physical needs or multiple disabilities a lot of times need specialized car seats. They are good to make sure the child is protected and is the most comfortable on a long trip,” she said.

Also, many kids can’t drive for long stretches. Be prepared to make frequent stops. Bring snacks, books, toys and other favorite activities to help your child pass the time. It will save your sanity too.


Stay in a place that can accommodate your child’s needs. All domestic hotels must offer wheelchair-accessible rooms, so request one if it makes sense. Also see that elevators are accessible if required. Or if your child has anxiety about elevators, ask for a room on the first floor. Inquire about accommodations for guests with special needs including a refrigerator to keep medicine cool. Be aware that some international hotels may not be so accommodating, so make sure you know what to expect before you arrive.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

Acute problems can arise while on vacation, plan for them. Know locations of the nearest appropriate hospital and pharmacy. Pack a detailed and current medical summary, plan of care, and contact information on all your child’s healthcare providers and insurance. Bring extra medication in the event your return travel is delayed. It’s also a good idea to alert hotel security and staff to your child’s needs. If traveling out of country beware over-the-counter medications as they may have different ingredients that could cause adverse reactions.

Get these details done and go have fun.