We began travelling intentionally as a family when my youngest was about five. Why did it take us that long? Well, we were afraid to travel because my younger daughter has special needs. We thought it would be challenging, and it totally is. BUT, it is also abundantly worth it, and then some. Watching her make friends with children from all over the world, getting her hair braided in Haiti, racing down waterslides with her at Atlantis and hearing her talk about her adventures with pride, is respite from the daily chaos.
There was a process we went through to get to our special needs travel comfort zone. We built up to the bigger adventures by taking road trips. We had social stories in advance of the trip and rehearsed what would happen. One of the things that helped us most was remembering many strategic comfort objects. The comfort objects we packed, or carried made all the difference.
So I thought I’d share a few of the items that always helped her with the transitions and the loudness of public spaces, and the tight, uncomfortable, noisy airplanes. And even the nights sleeping in a strange new hotel or resort, or cruise ship. Travel can, and should be, accessible to all. But it often requires more planning when one or more in your family have special needs.
My youngest daughter has sensory processing disorder and FASD, which I have written about here from time to time. We spent years trying to figure out her diagnoses and then years plugging in supports. Trust me when I say, if there’s a segment of the population that needs holidays more than special needs parents, well I have yet to meet them.
My Picks for Comfort Objects for Tiny Special Needs Travellers
- These can be noise cancelling or otherwise. A really good, sturdy, kid safe set of headphones – preferably a set that collapses and folds up. Use where appropriate. On the van in the way to the airport. Headphones. Right after the flight attendant gives you the okay to put them back on. Headphones. Use a set with a cord because you will be able to use them for in flight movies or TV shows. Helps distract them too when necessary.
- The best ones we ever found were very simple Gymboree cotton swaddle blankets like these: Gymboree Fun Li’l Blanket. My daughter received two when she was an infant. She also got one for her first birthday and she had a matching outfit with poppies on it. Obviously she’s long since outgrown the outfit (size 1) and yet the blanket is still floating around a decade later – a bit worse for the wear but still as soft as ever. For some reason at 13, as a teenager, doesn’t like swaddling anymore. LOL. These are the softest I have ever found. Kids with sensory issues like soft things. For my girl, holding it and smelling it, and worrying the fabric between her hands, was calming.
(Clicking on any of the images or links will take you to Amazon and you can get them straight away.)
A Friend – Ours is called Wendy, a Build-A-Bear
- Husband and I joked recently that Wendy has been to more countries and airports than most adults. The wonderful thing about our bear is that she has never been lost. She was always cuddled on landing and takeoff and also smelled of home. That mattered. Oh, and the thing about Build-A-Bear is that they are all registered with Find-A-Bear so you if one did get lost it could be reunited with your child fairly easily. Your friend could be any stuffed animal that is soft and loved.
Comfort Objects for Tiny Travellers – Quiet fidgets
- We have a few quiet fidgets now even for the teens. Here are a few I like. These tangles are awesome!! They are actually my favourite and I fidget with them often during the work day.
- When Ainsley was little she needed to chew on things a lot. That’s common with sensory processing disorder. Here’s what we used and still have actually. They last forever. These P s and Qs are good for oral sensory feedback. Tiny special needs travellers will be less likely to chew holes in clothing, or blankets. And less inclined to gnaw on you too. These are excellent for day care or school too. Click on the image to find out where to buy.
Finding Magic in the Moments
Someone reminded me today that even though this is all so old to me, there are new parents every day trying to get away who have no idea about comfort objects for tiny special needs travellers. So, I hope this helps you to find the courage to explore with your child. Special needs travel is dramatically changing for the better. No need to stay home if you don’t want to.
I hope you find magic in the small moments of calm, with a little bit of unexpected excitement along the way. So many enjoyable memories are waiting for all of you to claim.
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