One of the best moments of being a parent is watching your child experience things for the first time. Children laugh at the smallest and silliest of things and get excited about everything they see. Traveling exposes children to new places, experiences and discoveries. It enhances a child’s imagination, confidence, creativity, and reinforces academic, communication, and social skills.
Traveling with a child with special needs can be exciting, but also may involve physical and emotional challenges. Preparing for the trip and choosing special needs friendly destinations is extremely important.
- Unique art programs, multisensory workshops, ASL interpreted programs, audio descriptive tours, and sensory friendly programs are offered at facilities throughout the country
- Summer sports and adaptive ski programs are available for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities
- Water sports programs are available i.e. swimming with the dolphins, Surfers for Autism, Surfers Healing, scuba diving and snorkeling programs for the physically disabled through The Diveheart Foundation
- Guest assistance passes for amusement parks and access passes to National Parks are available
- Theater programs including accessible seating, audio descriptions, open captioning, sign language interpreting, and autism friendly showings are available through The Theatre Development Fund Accessibility Program
- Hotels that are special needs friendly
- Facilities that can accommodate dietary needs
- Discounts for individuals with special needs are available at attractions
- Identify special accommodations or services that need to be put in place prior to traveling. Arrange for any special medical supplies/equipment
- Contact TSA Cares for questions pertaining to equipment regulations, screening policies, and procedures with air travel. TSA Cares (1-855-787-2227)
- Contact Special Needs at Sea for supplies/equipment needed on cruise ships.
- Visit the Website for The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities to locate hotels and attractions that are “autism friendly” in Florida
- Inquire if any special programs are available at the hotel or resort
- Identify Cruise Lines that accommodate physical and developmental disabilities. Royal Caribbean is the first cruise line that has been named “autism friendly”
- Identify your child’s potential travel concerns, i.e. waiting in line, transitioning, sensory overload, change in routine, meeting new people, going through airport security (to name a few)
- Use strategies such as visual scripts, calendars, visual stories, schedules, and relaxation techniques to address potential travel concerns
- Use earplugs, noise cancelling headphones, and sunglasses for children with sensory issues
- Discuss vacation safety rules with your child. Safe proof your room. If your child tends to bolt, purchase a portable battery operated alarm system to use on the doors in your cabin or hotel room. Use non-permanent tattoos for ID purposes and Child Aviation Restraint System to keep you child safe in his seat on an airplane
- Speak with the chef at your hotel, cruise ship, or restaurant to assure special dietary needs are in place. Visit FAAN Network and Allergy Free Table Websites for information about accommodating food allergies while traveling
- Contact a travel consultant who has experience working with individuals with special needs
Additional information on special needs friendly destinations including museums, zoos, aquariums planetariums, amusement parks, and ski resorts can be found in our Starbrite Traveler Book series through Amazon.com. Books also include special needs resources, checklists, safety activities, and application of evidence based strategies and interactive activities to prepare your child for travel.
Starbrite Traveler: A Travel Resource for Parents of Children with Special Needs
Starbrite Traveler: Destinations for Kids with Special Needs – East Coast Edition
Autism & Travel: Strategies for Kids to Enjoy an Awesome Experience
Ida Keiper and Jesemine Jones are special educators, travel consultants and authors. They are co-founders of the Starbrite Kids’ Program and Starry Night Travel, LLC, a travel agency that specializes in planning travel for individuals with special needs.
Families and special needs adult groups wishing to travel will receive personalized assistance to plan a wonderful vacation. Contact information: