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3 Ways to Make Getaways Easier for the Special Needs Family

The holidays are upon us, followed by New Years and Spring Break (if we’re going by the significant school calendar days). If it’s within the budget, you might hear the ramblings of families around you taking the opportunity to get away from the hustle of the realities of life. And if you’re like us, each conversation you have with said travelers lends to an inner sigh. That single breath that within it holds many thoughts, maybe even a little jealousy. Just as quickly as it appears, it’s quickly washed away because of budget or the acknowledgement of the enormous amount of hoops your family would have to go through in order to make any sort of get away feasible, much less enjoyable.

Budgeting is a difficult obstacle to surmount, unless it’s just not. There are so many variables that work into determining a getaway budget that go beyond the scope of this article. But the insanity part, the hoops… well here we can look at four things that might make your planning a little easier.

1) Where to go?

  • If this is your first outing, or you haven’t attempted one in a long time, or circumstances have changed within your household, don’t look too far. The farther away from your present location you seek, the more obstacles you’ll face. Closer-to-home also lends to the ability to scrap it if it all crashes down around you.
  • Consider getaways within one hours drive of your house. Even going as far as 4 hours away still gives you the opportunity to wake up one morning, see the imminent meltdown rising, quickly pack your belongings, and return your family to home by mid-afternoon so the “melt” can happen in the most comfortable of spaces. Your home.

2) Where to stay?

  • Do you need wheelchair accessible accommodations? Is your child able to independently navigate a home or have the need to navigate a fully accessible home (think shower, toileting, washing hands, etc.). Or is the ability to get your child inside your vacation space the biggest obstacle? Would a hotel with elevator access have more “perks” than a VBRO that’s accessible?
  • Do you have food allergies that run through your family? Is it possible that having accommodations with a kitchen available (or kitchenette) the best option? Eating out can be risky and it may be a risk not worth taking in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Similarly, if you want a ‘vacation’ from cooking as well (because this is your getaway too after all), you can easily do a simple google maps search for what’s near your accommodations. It gives you an opportunity to scout restaurants or fast food places that might be able to help nourish your allergenic family in a pinch. Make the phone calls or find some familiars. Even having the availability of a nearby gas station or Target / Walmart or the like that allows you to grab some chips, cheeses, lunch meat etc. would be helpful. Don’t feel like you must do something fancy or have a variety of different places. One or two can be the best as it lends to the restaurant being familiar with your family during your stay and knowing ahead of time that you have non-typical considerations. Then you’ll know where you’re going for dinner, and if you’re fortunate enough to find a diner-type place, you can usually get breakfast AND lunch there.
  • Water – in truth, this could be a consideration both in accommodations and for where to go. Is your kiddo an eloper? Is he / she drawn to water? You might want to consider the surroundings of where you’re traveling and where you’re staying as it relates to water. Some hotels have fences or require key cards for entrance to their water facilities. Others (most) do not. Certainly, many of us are familiar with the fact that if our kiddos want to reach a water destination, not much will stand in their way. If this is something you have to navigate around, you certainly should consider a VRBO or some other such accommodation that doesn’t have the luxury a pool offers.

3) What to do?

  • Consider the age and entertain-ability of your children… all your children. Is there a balance of things to do… for instance, if your “typical” children really enjoy jumping on trampolines but your special needs kiddo is confined to a wheelchair, is there a give and take? Is there a place that offers trampolining and bowling or video games (yes, it’s different if it’s not at home), an arcade, or a bookstore nearby that they can unwind in? If you’re a two-parent household, can you split up so that all are having fun with plans to meet up at a later time? Or, find a way to strike a balance between trampolining for some, then switching to a preferred activity for your special needs child.
  • Are you going somewhere to just get away from it all? A favored spot, lake home or mountain cabin that’s become available for your family where you can go to unplug? Remember that we’re adults, mostly capable of reasoning within ourselves to overcome our urges. Kids are not the same. The ability to fully unplug at the drop of a hat might be a disaster in wait. Instead, consider reducing the time on electronics for your kiddos.
  • Ensure that there’s something “to do” when it’s designated down time. Card games, nature walk, making a family food treat are good alternatives. You don’t have to reach too far.
  • Utilize the timers available on devices so the device is telling your child when to be on or off – not you. Become friendly with the iPad’s “Screen Time” abilities or download other screen timer devices from your platform’s store.
  • Along with this, bringing any daily schedules you have for your family will help your special needs kiddo (and everyone) know what’s next and what will be expected of him / her. Some families prefer to use paper and picture schedules, other use apps on devices. Whatever you use, bring it and just ensure that it represents the time that you’re wanting to spend together on your getaway.

While you much of this may feel like common sense in a special needs family, it’s easy to forget some of these considerations when tasked with the enormity of taking on travel. Likewise, many of us “older” families have struggled with these challenges while “newer” families may not have had to consider these things yet. If you’re a newer special needs family and have access to an “older” (read as has an older child with special needs and therefore have had to confront these struggles) special needs family, ask. It doesn’t hurt. Everyone’s experience is different and insight they have may be very different than what you’ve had to consider yet.

It’s not impossible to get away. You can do it. If not today, another day, another year, but it will happen… and you can make your getaways easier with some planning.


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