With the end of the school year and summer right around the corner, we’re sure many of you have started to plan for family trips and vacations. To help you prepare better, we thought we would share some valuable tips and resources from Ida Keiper on traveling with your children with special needs. Ida Keiper is a special educator and the co-founder of the Starbrite Kids’ Program and Starry Night Travel, LLC, a travel agency that specializes in planning travel for individuals with special needs.
Tips for Traveling with Children with Special Needs
by Ida Keiper
“If we all could see the world through eyes of a child we would
see the magic in everything.” –Chee Vai Tang
One of the best moments of being a parent is observing your child experience things for the first time. Children laugh at the silliest and smallest of things and are excited about everything they see. Traveling exposes children to new places, discoveries and experiences. It enhances a child’s confidence, imagination, creativity, and reinforces academic, social and communication skills.
Traveling with a child with special needs can be exciting, but also may involve emotional and physical challenges. Preparing for the trip and choosing special needs friendly destinations is extremely important.
There are a wide variety of resources and programs available for children with special needs:
- Unique art programs, ASL interpreted programs, multisensory workshops, sensory friendly programs, and audio descriptive tours, are offered at facilities throughout the country
- Adaptive ski and sports programs are available for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities
- Water sports programs are available i.e. Surfers for Autism, Surfers Healing, swimming with the dolphins, scuba diving and snorkeling programs for the physically disabled through The Diveheart Foundation
- Access passes to National Parks and guest assistance passes for amusement parks are available
- Theater programs including accessible seating, open captioning, sign language interpreting, audio descriptions, and autism friendly showings are available through The Theatre Development Fund Accessibility Program
- Hotels and resorts that are special needs friendly
- Facilities that can accommodate individuals with dietary needs
Tips when planning your vacation:
- Identify services or special accommodations that need to be put in place prior to traveling. Arrange for any medical supplies/equipment needed.
- Contact TSA Cares at (855) 787-2227 for questions pertaining to equipment regulations, procedures, and screening policies with air travel.
- Contact Special Needs at Sea for equipment/supplies needed on cruise ships
- Locate attractions and hotels in Florida that are “autism friendly” by visiting The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.
- Inquire if any special programs for children with a physical or developmental disability are available at the resort or hotel.
- Identify Cruise Lines that accommodate individuals with developmental and physical disabilities. Royal Caribbean is the first cruise line that has been named “autism friendly”.
- Identify your child’s potential travel concerns, i.e. change in routine, waiting in line, transitioning, sensory overload, meeting new people, going through airport security (to name a few).
- Use strategies such as visual stories, visual scripts, calendars, schedules, and relaxation techniques to address potential travel concerns.
- Use noise cancelling headphones, earplugs, and sunglasses for children with sensory issues.
- Discuss vacation safety rules with your child. Safe proof your room or cabin. If your child tends to bolt, install a portable battery operated alarm system to the doors in your cabin or hotel room. Apply 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 websites such as FAAN Network and Allergy Free Table for information about accommodating food allergies while traveling
- Contact a travel agent who has experience working with individuals with special needs.
Additional information on special needs friendly destinations including amusement parks, museums, zoos, aquariums planetariums, and ski resorts can be found in our Starbrite Traveler Book series through Amazon.com. Books also include special needs resources, safety activities, checklists, 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
ABOUT IDA KEIPER
Ida Keiper is dually certified as Teacher of the Handicapped and Elementary School Education. She earned a B.A. from Georgian Court University. Ms. Keiper, a highly qualified teacher educated children with disabilities for thirty years, wrote district curriculum for special education, coordinator of special education department in New Jersey public schools. Her compassion and professionalism earned her “Teacher of the Year.” Over the years Ms. Keiper has fostered close relationships with her students and parents. Ms. Keiper lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons.