BY IDA KEIPER AND JESEMINE JONES; ILLUSTRATIONS BY BREE RUBIN
When you travel and explore the world with your children, you have the opportunity to share their experiences and enthusiasm. On the other hand, children also benefit from traveling. For travel is full of teachable moments and, for children with special needs, the experiences are no different. Travel provides opportunities for them to practice and improve social and communication skill and promotes cognitive growth.
Families with a child with special needs may avoid traveling due to the unique circumstances. The parents tend to be concerned that they will not be able to secure the required special provisions and accessibility for hotel accommodations, attractions, and modes of transportation. Other concerns center on vacation anticipation, going through airport security, flying on an airplane, transitioning from one activity to another, waiting, conversing with different people, and staying safe.
When traveling with a child with special needs, planning for special provisions and accessibility prior to leaving for the vacation are important.
TRAVEL CONCERNS AND INTERVENTIONS
Travel itself presents experiences that require learning new behavior and interacting with unfamiliar people. For example, your child may be navigating the airport and flying in an airplane for the first time. Other new experiences include riding a subway, sleeping in a different bed, conversing with different people, and eating at new restaurants. Through all of this, your child must also practice safe behavior. All of these aspects of travel are wonderfully exciting, but may also pose challenges for some children.
The “Starbrite Kids Three Steps” could help you identify potential travel concerns, develop strategies to address those concerns, and prepare your child for travel by: discussing the trip with your child, identifying travel concerns, and using strategies to address travel concerns. Countdown calendar, visual stories, modeling, visual schedule, relaxation techniques, and visual scripts are a few ways parents can use evidence-based intervention strategies to address travel concerns.
In the books Starbrite Traveler: A Travel Resource for Parents of Children with Special Needs and Autism & Travel: Strategies for Kids to Enjoy an Awesome Experience, we address the 15 most common travel concerns: vacation anticipation, active involvement in vacation preparation, going through airport security, flying on an airplane, riding on an elevator, sleeping in a different bed, transitioning from one activity to another, over stimulation at attractions, waiting, eating at restaurants, following morning/evening routine, conversing with different people, meeting unfamiliar relatives, sharing with peers on vacation, and staying safe. The book also provides parents with evidence-based strategies to address these concerns. For each intervention, the strategy is described and includes easy-to-follow steps on how to apply those strategy. Also included are interactive illustrated examples on how to implement the strategy before vacation and on vacation.
The world is the true classroom. The most rewarding and important type of learning is through experience, seeing something with our own eyes.
SPECIAL NEEDS FRIENDLY DESTINATIONS
The United States has many special needs-friendly destinations waiting for you. When researching attractions for our book, Starbrite Traveler: Destination for Kids with Special Needs – East Coast Edition, we were pleased to see the wide variety of outstanding programs available for children with special needs.
Highlights include museums offering unique art programs and multisensory workshops for children with a wide variety of disabilities; sensory-friendly programs, including Sensory Saturdays, are offered throughout the year at various museums.
Adaptive snow ski programs are available for children with physical and developmental disabilities, including autism.
Autism surfer programs give children an opportunity to enjoy water sport. Broadway theatres provide special showings for children with autism, as well as provide ASL interpreters for the hearing impaired. Below is a sample of special needs friendly destinations.
Additional special needs-friendly destinations can be found in the book Starbrite Traveler: Destination for Kids with Special Needs – East Coast Edition (available for purchase through Amazon.com):
Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk, CT
Delaware Children’s Museum, Wilmington, DE
Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, FL
Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa, FL
The Florida Aquarium, Tampa, FL
Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago, IL
Museum of Science, Boston, MA
Garden State Discovery Museum, Cherry Hill, NJ
Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, Manhattan, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, NY
Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA
Morgan’s Wonderland, San Antonio, TX
New England Disabled Sports at Loon Mountain, Lincoln, NH
National Ability Center, Park City, UT
Tradewinds Island Resort, St. Pete Beach, FL
Wyndham Hotel Tampa Westshore, Tampa, FL
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Jesemine Jones and Ida Keiper are special needs educators, authors, and travel consultants. They have a combined five decades of educating children with special needs. Jones is a school social worker and Keiper with over thirty years of experience as a special education teacher. They are co-founders of Abeon Travel, a travel agency specializing in travel for families with special needs. They are also co-authors of Starbrite Traveler: A Travel Resource for Parents of Children with Special Needs, Starbrite Traveler: Destinations for Kids with Special Needs – East Coast Edition and Autism; and Travel: Strategies for Kids to Enjoy an Awesome Experience! Abeon Travel provides: Personal service to families and adult groups traveling with special needs such as guided planning, booking, and making special arrangements for your trip; Interventions to address travel concern(s); Travel Essential Packing List; Personalized visual supports. Visit www.abeontravel.com or email or call firstname.lastname@example.org; 732-539-1690.
SPECIAL PROVISION AND ACCESSIBILITY AMBULATORY/MEDICAL NEEDS
• Check the age of the ship. Newer ships tend to have better wheelchair/walker accessibility and medical equipment for children with mobility issues.
• Request a wheelchairaccessible room early. Many hotels/cruise ships only have a limited number of these rooms/cabins available.
• Special Needs at Sea (www.specialneedsatsea.com) will deliver equipment and supplies directly to the cruise ship if needed.
• Inquire about vacation trip insurance that includes airlift coverage in the event of an emergency.
• Request an orientation tour of the ship or hotel to familiarize your child with the public spaces.
• Bring your own extension cord in the event the ship or hotel is unable to provide one to charge a wheelchair.
• Motorized wheelchairs and mobility scooters cannot be taken on tenders. For a list of ports of call where the cruise ship docks at the pier check with the cruise line.
• Prior to leaving for vacation, locate an equipment supply store near your hotel in case of equipment breakage.
• When traveling internationally, do not plug your wheelchair into the hotel’s razor plug. It can only accept 15-watt appliances and will blow a fuse and possibly destroy your equipment. A universal charger is available for wheelchairs and scooters from Soneil (www.soneil.com).
• If your child is interested in snorkeling, but has a physical disability that will prevent swimming, an inflatable raft with a window is the way to go. Your child can lie on the raft and use the window to view the underwater world.
• Prior to air travel, be sure to review Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations for equipment requirements, dimensions of wheelchairs, medical portable electronic devices, ventilators, respirators or regulations regarding batteries. www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions
• If your child requires a wheelchair on the plane, request an “airplane specific wheelchair” when booking to enable him to maneuver the aisles and lavatory.
• Use gel or foam-filled batteries in your scooter or power chair to avoid the requirement to remove standard acid-filled batteries and pack them in a special container.
• The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all medical portable electronic devices be marked with the manufacture’s label.
• If your child has a visual impairment, inform hotel and cruise staff.
• Request an orientation tour of the hotel or cruise ship.
• Inform the hotel or cruise ship at booking if your child will be traveling with a service animal.
• Request from the hotel auditory safety devices for your room.
• Request Braille menus and/or brochures from hotels, cruise ships, or attractions.
• Request an additional room pass key so that your older child can gain independence entering the hotel room and your younger child can have fun using a hotel key card. Place a small piece of tape on the card running in the same direction as the visual arrow to help with placing the card into the door slot.
NEEDS FOR THE DEAF OR HARD OF HEARING
• Sign language interpreters and other access options are usually available at museums, amusement parks, and other facilities with advance notice. Be sure to contact all places where you plan to visit to request interpreters or other access options.
• Request visual and tactile alert kits from the hotel or cruise ship.
• Pack extra batteries and tubing for your hearing aid. Take a portable dehumidifier, hearing aid blower, or HAL-HEN super Dri-Aid container with you to prevent moisture problems, especially if your destination has a warm,
Important: Once hearing aids absorb moisture, they are not functional until all moisture evaporates.
SPECIAL DIETARY NEEDS
• Avoid buffets, as there is a high risk of cross contamination.
• Use a sheet specifically made for airplane seats to protect your child from contact with any food residue left on the seat. To purchase airplane sheets, visit www.planesheets.com
• TSA requires that an Epinephrine pen be in its original package with the printed label attached. A physician’s note or prescription must also accompany this pen.
• For information on managing food allergies on vacation visit this comprehensive website
• Create chef cards describing your child’s food allergies by downloading and printing pre-made chef cards for the following food allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, shellfish, fish, seafood, eggs, wheat, soy and gluten free intolerance from www.allergyfreetable.com/chef-cards.aspx It is best to print cards on bright colored paper or card stock so it stands out from the other orders. You can also create your own cards.