The official scouting motto is “Be Prepared.” If parents of special needs kids had a motto, it would be the same thing. We always have to be ready for any scenario and never more so than when we travel with them.
Here are ten items you must have in your arsenal before traveling so that you are prepared for anything. (Hint: you probably already have a lot of these, but have you remembered to pack them?)
1. ID bracelet:
This is a nightmare scenario for any parent, but parents of special needs kids must be prepared for it. What if your child has a dietary need and a would-be helper offers them a life-endangering snack? If your child is non-verbal, how will they communicate your contact info? Online retailers sell ID bracelets for a fairly inexpensive price. Make sure your listed contact info is current and your child’s needs are communicated clearly.
2. Backup supplies:
If your child depends on medical supplies, count your stock several weeks before you travel to make sure you have time to purchase or order more if you don’t have enough on hand to get you through your trip.
3. Backup food or formula:
Feeding a child with dietary restrictions is hard when you’re on the road and don’t have many choices. Pack lots of safe snacks and meal items so your child always has something to eat. Likewise, make sure you have plenty of formula with you if your child requires a specific type.
4. Emergency contact info for doctors:
While this is something most parents of special needs kids have in their phones, double check that you do and that the information is correct so that you can quickly reach a doctor who knows your child’s history should an emergency arise.
5. List of medical help where you are going:
Do not wait until your child has an emergency to figure out where the closest hospital is from your hotel. Know the address of the closest hospitals and clinics so you can get somewhere quickly.
6. Replacement parts & toolkit:
If your child has a mobility aid, make sure you take any replacement parts you have with you or a toolkit to help you make repairs. For example, we recently traveled to a state park, and our son’s wheelchair lost a front wheel. Had we not been prepared with a bungee cord in our toolkit that could hold the wheel on temporarily, he would not have had access to his wheelchair for the rest of our trip.
7. Plan for your destination:
Call before you book the place where you want to stay to make sure they can accommodate your child’s needs. Do an internet search on the surrounding area to make sure that there are places to eat and things to do that can include your child. The last thing you want is a kid stuck watching everyone else have fun.
8. Plug-in cooler:
This can be a lifesaver if you have kids with special dietary needs or medication that needs to be refrigerated. These coolers plug into your car’s outlet and keep everything chilled for the whole trip.
Check that you have all of the chargers or your electronic devices in one place. Make sure you have a backup charger if your child requires a device to speak or as a therapeutic tool to calm them in new situations.
10. Goody bag with new toys/games:
This is helpful for all kids while they travel, but take care to make it unique to your special needs child’s preferences. Does your child need something chewable to prevent gnawing on clothes? Include a new one in the bag. Does your child need something like a fidget spinner to keep their hands occupied? Get a new one. Do they have a special TV show that helps them calm down? Buy a DVD of a whole season of that show to take with you. Truly being able to relax while traveling is elusive to most parents who have special needs kids. Following the items on this list will go a long way towards helping you create an enjoyable and restful vacation.