Thinking of planning a trip? Thinking of driving over flying? Terrified of how your child will handle it? This is a common problem many parents of children with special needs (and even parents of children without!) encounter. Here are some tips to help your trip go as smoothly as possible!
Planned stops: Map your route. If you know you are going to have a long trip, plan out your stops ahead of time in order to break the trip up into smaller increments. If you have an idea of how long your child is able to be in the car appropriately without getting distraught, plan your stops to happen just BEFORE that point. For example, if you know your child is able to tolerate 90 minutes prior to getting upset or anxious, plan your stops every 75 minutes. Get out, use the bathroom, walk around, get some food, and then head back out after you’ve all had a break! It’s also helpful to have an idea of fun stops along the way beforehand, that way your child has motivation to remain calm and be patient.
Supplies: Have some special “trip” activities that your child has limited access to otherwise, so that they remain fun and reinforcing. You can even have them help pack a “road trip bag” full of special activities so they are more inclined to enjoy them and feel a sense of responsibility over their own bag. Some good items are: headphones/music, iPad, coloring or activity books, and sensory items such as Koosh balls or fidgets, travel games, books. If you plan on trying new items or activities, test them out prior to the trip so you know they are enjoyable, that they work, etc. Also, remember to bring snacks and drinks!
Child safety: Remember those child safety locks if you have a child that may elope! If you are afraid of unlocking seatbelts, there are devices available to ensure your child is not able to unbuckle themselves. You can also consider special car seats, harnesses, etc. Amazon is a great resource!
Break it up: If you have an especially long trip, consider breaking it up into smaller chunks and including an overnight stay along the way. It may be slightly more costly and time-consuming, however, it may greatly reduce anxiety and set everyone up for success for a good trip!
Practice, practice, practice: Work up to it. Plan smaller trips in the weeks and even months ahead of time. Prime your child about what to expect. Write a social story. Talk about expected and unexpected behaviors. The more your child knows about what to expect, the more anxiety reduction that may happen ahead of time and the more appropriate road trip behaviors we can shape and reinforce!
*This information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and should not be used to replace consultation with your doctor or qualified professional.