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Travel with Sensitive Kiddos

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

1. Choose Travel Times Wisely. Consider your child’s needs and schedule your travel around those needs. Keep in mind that long flights might be best done over the night to allow the child time to sleep and make the long flight more manageable. Other kiddos need to travel early morning or when airports or freeways are least crowded since too many people and too much noise can cause meltdowns. Take your child’s specific struggles into account and schedule accordingly.

2. Prepare Your Child Before You Go Use the communication tools that work well for you in other situations to help prepare your child for travel. Use a social story.  Talk them through what will happen, show them pictures of where you’re going, and explain in ways they might understand what kind of adventure is ahead. Break down the trip in increments that a child can understand. For example, if you’ll be traveling by plane, make a four step schedule that includes items like: 1. check into airport 2. enjoy flight 3. pick up luggage 4. drive to destination, etc. Mark off each item as you complete it so he or she will know what to expect next. Steps can also be broken down into smaller increments.

3. Bring A Bag of Tricks Plan ahead so boredom and hunger will not be part of your child’s travel experience. Bring along some travel games, books, and art supplies. Put together a backpack full of things that helps your child with sensory issues. Consider it a small sensory diet to go. This might include fidget toys, chewies, headphones and crunchy snacks. Bring a familiar lovey, blanket, compression shirt or weighted vest to help reduce the stress of unfamiliar environments. A portable sound machine can be a lifesaver in hotels and even airplanes, especially if you use one at home already. Grab a cute pair of headphones and download puzzles, educational games and shows onto an ipad (with a cute protection case!) and it can keep kids entertained for hours. Don't worry about the studies showing screen time is harmful. Those are prolonged use studies. Using it as much as you wish during travel is ok!

4. Make Arrangements Ahead of Time Calling ahead to make special arrangements will make your trip easier. Contact airlines, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks in advance and explain that you are traveling with a child who has special needs.  Discuss your needs and request certain accommodations, and any other concerns you may have. When choosing a hotel, you may want to inquire about any renovations at the facility that could bother a child with noise sensitivity.

5. Give Yourself Extra Time Sitting for a long time in a small space can be hard for kids, and especially for kids with sensory processing needs.  Leave enough time to take a break before getting on a plane or scheduling a break for a road trip.  Provide some heavy work activities, for improved self-regulation You might have your child take a break to climb up and down some stairs, hold on to the sides of his seat and lift himself up and down (chair pushups), or walk over to a wall and do pushups against a wall. Pulling or carrying luggage that is a reasonable weight to manipulate is a great way to get heavy work in.  Providing breaks can reduce the chances of feeling overloaded by the stress of hurrying through a new situation. It may also prevent an anxiety-related meltdown.

Traveling is an adventure for everyone. The journey is part of the trip, so plan ahead, take it in stride and smile. The trips are short, but the memories are long.

Short list of flight approved toys:

1. Dimpl Toy. Poke and grab them; a perfect, portable sensory delight great for babies and toddlers ages 10 months+. Bubbles are made of 100% food-grade silicone. Engages the senses; Encourages fine motor skills, sensory exploration, cause-and-effect learning.

2. Reusable Sticker Books. Stick and unstick. Kids love stickers!.

3. Reusable Water Paint Books. Water is needed for the "paintbrush" part, but minimal spilling occurs with these fun "paintable" books.

4. Wikki Stix. Non-toxic, not messy, and a kid favorite. Make amazing things with these wax textured, bendable sticks.

5. Window Gel Clings. Reusable and oh so fun on those plane windows. Great for sensory input and fine motor skills.

6. Wooden Cheese Lacing Game. Quiet, wooden threading block which is great for developing fine motor skills.

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