The Upside of Taking a Vacation with Your Special Needs Child

Do you need a vacation? If the answer is yes, you’re in good company! Of course, if you have a family member with special needs, there’s more to planning a vacation than getting out the map and choosing a destination. Consider a few things to think about before setting off on a road trip to your family’s next vacation destination.

Why Take a Vacation?

There are dozens of reasons to take a vacation. It gives family members the chance to see new places, relax, and get a refreshed perspective. But, for some parents of kids with unique needs, the idea of taking a vacation sounds more exhausting than refreshing. But there are still plenty of good reasons to go!

Adjusting to Other Environments

Because of sensory challenges many kids with autism (understandably) prefer to stick to their everyday routine. They have a handful of places they visit such as school, a favorite drive-thru restaurant, a particular store, etc. So, taking a child with autism on vacation gives them practice at dealing with all that comes with experiencing a new environment.

Of course, parents must factor in what they know about their child and their particular sensitivities when deciding where to go on vacation. However, taking a child to an unfamiliar environment can prompt them to develop the skills they’ll need when visiting different places as an adult.

Going on a vacation to the beach can introduce a child with specific needs to a whole new collection of experiences. And, as most parents of special needs children know, a child can certainly surprise you with their reaction. An unfamiliar environment like a sandy beach may quickly turn into a favorite place they don’t ever want to leave.

Social Skills Practice

Taking a child with unique needs on vacation is the perfect opportunity for them to strengthen their social skills. The extent of the practice depends on the individual child.

One set of parents may have a teenager who is working on ordering food in a restaurant. While on vacation, the teenager would get the opportunity to see the food ordering process modeled by others as well as get the chance to practice the steps.

Another set of parents may have an elementary school aged child with autism who needs to practice more basic social skills. On a vacation to the amusement park, the child could practice sitting on the merry-go-round for the whole ride, waiting in line at the snack bar and saying thank you to workers throughout the park.

Teaching social skills doesn’t have to be a formal lesson. A lot of these skills can be taught while having fun on a family vacation!

A Short Trip to Start

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to enjoying a vacation with a child of any age who has unique needs is to start small. For parents who are not sure how their child is going to react to a particular destination, it would be smart to try a shorter getaway.

As an example, a mom and dad want to take their child on a road trip to a national park located four hours away. They may first want to test the waters by taking a road trip to a smaller park located an hour away from home. That way, the parents can observe how their child does on the car trip.

If parents want to take their child on a fishing trip to a lake located in the next state, they may want to first take them to a local pond to fish. This gives the parents the chance to get some answers to questions.

• Does their child like being out on a boat in the water?
• Are they interested in baiting the hook, holding the fishing pole, and waiting for a fish to bite?

Getting answers to these questions before traveling to a lake in the next state is a smart idea. If it’s clear that the child doesn’t enjoy fishing, then parents can plan a different type of vacation.

The Journey

Parents know best whether their child likes to travel in the car and for how long. An older child may enjoy being in the car with family for hours whereas a young child may get restless and bored very quickly. Either way, parents have some things they can do to make a road trip to a vacation destination a little easier on everyone.

Don’t Forget the Snacks


Does your child like a certain type of snack? Chances are the answer to that question is yes. So, parents can pack plenty of their child’s favorite snack (along with everyone else’s) to enjoy on the road trip.

Staying Occupied

Playing games or watching videos on a tablet or perhaps a portable DVD player can be a great way to keep any child occupied during a vacation road trip.

Listening to music through noise-canceling headphones can be another way to keep kids busy while traveling by car.

Some kids are content to look at the sights through the car windows. Opening the window a crack to create a breeze in the car is exhilarating for some kids who love that sensory experience.

Parents can enjoy even more peace of mind about the safety of their child or a family member with Alzheimer’s on a road trip by investing in a Buckle Boss Belt Guard. So, whether the family member is relaxed or a little anxious due to rainy weather or heavy traffic, they are securely belted in so the driver can focus on the road.

Go with the Flow

One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is to create a detailed plan for their vacation. At first glance, it seems like a good idea to make a schedule listing all of the places you want to see and when to see them. But, if you’ve been a parent of a special needs child for a few years, you know making a schedule with no wiggle room can be supremely frustrating. So, make a new vacation schedule and title it: Go with the Flow.

One of the many good things about going with the flow is you and your family can focus on a few entertaining activities and avoid the stress of trying to stuff every experience into one vacation.

Going with the flow on a vacation can also lead to surprising moments of fun. For example, say you travel to a nearby city to visit a zoo. You may wonder which animal your child will like best. The giraffes? The penguins? The tigers? But it turns out your child’s favorite part of the zoo is the area where you can pet the goats, sheep, rabbits, and other farm animals. Each time you try to leave this area your child runs back to pet another animal.

Girl watching fish

So, you spend most of your time in one corner of the zoo watching your child laugh and smile while petting the animals there. Though you saw very few exhibits, everyone agrees it was a fun day.

Lastly, taking a vacation means you can incorporate what you learn into planning the next vacation with your child or with a family member who has Alzheimer’s. That can make the experience better with each outing.

Be sure to check our inventory for other items like the Auto Emergency Escape Tool that can improve safety and make any road trip with loved ones more enjoyable.