It’s not Impossible: How to Take a Vacation with Children with Special Needs

By: Chen Gordon

Parents of children with special needs have to map out their steps well in advance when planning a vacation, whether in Israel or overseas. With some extra patience, awareness and attention to detail, you can succeed. And you can enjoy yourself in the process.

Going off routine can create difficulties for any child, and each one will deal with the situation differently. Still, for children with disabilities, the challenges are unique, and sometimes the task can seem insurmountable.

For the most part, changing and switching routines tends to be significantly more difficult for children with disabilities. Upsetting the daily timetable to which they are accustomed – regular schedules, the familiar framework, known caregivers, the types of food they eat and even set times for meals which affect hunger and satisfaction hormones – may cause confusion and frustration that find expression in outbursts of anger and challenging behavior. Some children with disabilities cannot communicate themselves verbally and cannot convey what it is they find hard and what they want.

First and foremost, it is important that parents communicate to the child, in a comprehensible manner adapted to the child’s ability, that they are going on vacation. They should explain where they are going, what will happen and that the child’s daily routine will change. It is very important to provide the child with all of the information they require, at a level and in a way they are able to understand. For some children, taking along a favorite object or toy they especially like makes it easier to accept the new routine. It is also important to plan destinations in advance and make certain that stopovers along the route are accessible. If possible, it is a good idea to plan mealtimes and bedtimes as much as possible to match the child’s regular routine. Remember to bring along all supplementary equipment needed to care for the child  – communication and mobility devices.

Consider splitting up for part of the activities

You are going on vacation as a family, and it is important that all siblings receive proper attention. Everyone wants to enjoy the vacation. If necessary and if possible, you can weigh the option of dividing some activities between the sibling with special needs and the other siblings. Understanding your child and their needs is so important. Trust yourselves that you understand what the child is trying to tell you, how they feel, and, no less important, what can help the child in any given situation. It is also very important that each member of the family has a good time and no one develops feelings of deprivation and resentment.

Plan in advance

Every vacation, especially a vacation that includes a child with special needs, should be planned in advance with as much attention to detail as possible. Consider if taking along another person, a family member, babysitter, or anyone who knows the child with disabilities, would be helpful and make the trip a little easier.

Parents ask me what tips I can give to ensure a pleasant vacation with their special needs child. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Every family is different. Every family has unique needs. The one important tip I can give to parents is to remember that the goal of the vacation is to enjoy yourselves together with your family and to create fun, pleasant memories for everyone – for the child with special needs, the other siblings and, of course, the parents – because in the end, we want to recall good times.

Most Israelis choose to go away, whether in Israel or abroad, during the summer months, but remember, vacation does not have to be limited to summer. You can choose a different, more relaxed time for your getaway. Timing can be helpful to the child with special needs and their family. If you do decide to go on vacation, plan properly and keep in mind that the goal of the vacation is to be together and have a good time.

Chen Gordon is a social worker, emotional therapist and parenting counsellor. She is director of the Rehabilitation Daycare Center in the unique rehabilitation village, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran.

This article is a translation of the Hebrew which first appeared in the on-line edition of Israel Hayom, June 28, 2023

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