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Special Needs Life

Preparing for Holiday Travels as a Special Needs Family

I’ve done a lot of learning since becoming an autism mama just a short time ago. I’m constantly learning how to best help my son and understand his needs. But of course there’s a learning curve and some things I’ve had to learn the hard way. So as we enter the holiday season this year, I’m learning from previous year’s mistakes and actually preparing for holiday travels with our special needs son. I know that one day this will all come naturally but right now it takes a little extra thought.

In the past, I’ve had a “go with the flow” type of approach when it came to family trips. Which isn’t all bad…but it tended to end in several disastrous meltdowns resulting from our son getting overtired or his sensory needs not being met. From now on, I will always be proactive and prepare accordingly.

So if you’re just entering this special needs world like I am and need some pointers on making your trip awesome for everyone, keep on reading!

Preparing for holiday travels as a special needs family

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5 ways we’re preparing for holiday travels:

Bring their favorites…

Remember to pack their favorite things. At least a few of them! This one is kind of obvious but one to certainly not forget! You know, those things that help them regulate or that they just like to keep with them.

Axxle’s special interest is JBL speakers. He has quite a few so we’ll pick one or two of his current favorites, along with a few of his current favorite cars, a box (his other interesting obsession) and his tablet. Screen time is a great help to him when he gets overwhelmed or upset, not to mention it’ll be great to have as entertainment in the car. We’ll also bring some sensory items like his weighted blanket. (I’m asked a lot about his weighted blanket. We got it a while ago and his specific one is no longer available but this one on Amazon is very similar.)

Create a “safe space” for them to go…

So I don’t love the term “safe space”…chill corner, alone place, whatever you want to call it. Wherever it is you’re going, set up a corner or a room, somewhere they can go to escape the crowd. This is one thing I’ve failed to do in the past and I won’t be making that mistake again. Our son needs his alone time every day. Without it, overwhelm and overstimulation set in and meltdowns are sure to happen.

Have safe foods on hand…

It’s perfectly okay and acceptable to fix the chicken nuggets and serve the chips, even on the special holiday itself. Our kids deserve to enjoy their meals also! This isn’t really the time to try and force new or unfamiliar foods, when they’re in an unfamiliar place and away from their normal routine. So plan some meals and/or restaurant outings around what you know they’ll eat or at least bring some of their favorites to have on hand.

We’ll give him some exposure to whatever we are eating but I’ll also put his safe foods on his plate. Seriously, don’t give any thought to what family members may have to say and heat up those nuggets. Unapologetically!

Avoid over-tiredness like the plague…

Do what you can to keep their nap and/or bedtime routine the same! Much easier said than done…. But the times I’ve thrown caution to the wind and failed to pay attention to the time, it led to a vicious cycle of rough nights and even rougher days that just built on each other.

So bedtime is a top priority now! A little later than normal works okay for us but it definitely has to be reasonable.

Keep their sensory needs in mind when planning your days…

If you’ve got a child who has big sensory needs, whether they are a sensory seeker or avoider, don’t forget to keep those needs in mind when planning your outings. This may mean skipping certain events or just making sure to have specific accommodations for your child.

We’ve learned that even though parenthood looks totally different than we expected and is much harder at times, we can’t stop living. And we don’t want to. We want our son to experience all the fun trips and outings. We just have to know how to go into it prepared to meet his individual needs. He deserves to have just as great a time as everyone else.

How are you preparing for holiday travelse with your special needs child? Would you add anything to this list? Let me know if this was of help in the comments below!

Kalie Thomas

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