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Taking a vacation with your special needs child

Vacations are a time to relax, have fun and unwind! But the reality for many families with a special needs child is that vacations are stressful, exhausting and sometimes a complete nightmare. So much so that many of the families I have worked with as a Developmental Pediatrician, neurotherapist and parent coach, avoid vacations altogether, for many years.

This week on The Busy Mom Show, I interviewed Alan Day, CEO of ASD Vacations, a travel agency specializing in arranging vacations for families with a child on the autism spectrum and other special needs. Alan, shifted from being a luxury travel agent, to his current business when his own son with autism, experienced difficulties with vacationing.

Planning a successful vacation

Planning a successful vacation

Alan gave some excellent advice on taking your special needs child on vacation:

  • Share your child’s diagnosis with professionals you come across, such as airport and hotel staff. You may be surprised at how helpful people can be.
  • To reduce the impact of your child has a meltdown on vacation, consider wearing an “autism button” and travel with other families with a child with special needs, you can support each other at difficult times.
  • Children on the autism spectrum often fear change, it is one of the core features of autism, prepare them as much as you can: choose a rental car similar to your own, send familiar bedding ahead, practice eating at a restaurant chain that is at your destination.
  • Keep travel plans simple and limit transitions: non-stop flights if you can (it’s better to drive further to an airport with a direct flight), if two parents are traveling, sit one parent in front of your child on the plane, try noise cancelling headphones and strategies to reduce unpleasant air pressure changes.
  • Get in touch with the airline to ask to check in at First Class and TSA Cares may provide you with passenger support specialist, they will guide you and your child through security.
  • Choose a destination with many activities, including your child’s favorite thing and some activities, that if they are in the right frame of mind, they might try. You never know when your child with discover their next obsession!
  • If your child is a wanderer, get a GPS device for your child to wear, place STOP signs on doors, meet and discuss with the security team at the hotel, tell them how to interact with your child if they find them and take a photo of your child and attach a tag or band to your child with your contact details.
  • Choose your room carefully to reduce risk of wandering and sensory issues.
  • Seek the help of an experienced travel agent, so they can share their knowledge of good hotels, communicate with the hotel on your behalf and advocate for your child. They may be able to have conversations with the hotel about food or your child’s other needs.

All of this fabulous advice, will I am sure, be very useful to families with children with special needs and autism spectrum and increase your chances of having an enjoyable, successful vacation with your family.

To watch the full interview, please visit

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As always, I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.



Dr Leonaura Rhodes