It is official! Visiting family and friends is finally back in style! After almost 3 years of quarantining and staying home for the holidays, we opted to travel for Thanksgiving to visit family in Georgia. I will be the first to admit that the unknown is absolutely terrifying to me. I hate surprise parties, I don’t think spontaneous dates are fun, and if I don’t have a clear gauge on the who/what/when/where/how–I’m not going. I’m a coordinator for a living and structure is my love language. If you’re a momma of a child with special needs and THIS sounds (even just a little) like you: keep reading.
Here are 5 tips for visiting family with a child with special needs that I learned and discovered firsthand.
TIP 1: LEAVE EARLY
We’ve traveled with our son with autism on a plane, on a cruise, in a car, and by train. Every trip has been very early in the morning (between 4 am-7 am). I know. Sounds painful. But leaving this early in the morning means they’re more likely to squeeze in a morning snooze. Meaning more likely for at least a few hours of silence for you. We used this opportunity for our second cup of coffee and to listen to music we actually wanted to listen to.
Never take that second cup of caffeine and YOUR playlist for granted. Especially on long car rides.
TIP 2: BRING PLENTY OF YOUR CHILD’S FAVORITE FOODS AND SNACKS
We learned this on our second road trip to Georgia. My son was a little younger (pre-pandemic) so our first time I was only focused on getting there safely and in one piece. Although our main goal remained the same the second time around, making sure we didn’t need to make unnecessary stops for snacks really helped lessen our travel time. Our autistic son is still a very picky eater, so stocking up on the basics was essential. These were easy to make/give him on the go:
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Bagged chips
- Yogurt pouches
- Water bottle (we brought two: one with water, the other with juice)
- Fruit snacks
We also brought these in bulk so they would last us the whole week and release any stress this may bring to your host.
TIP 3: PLAN AHEAD
Like I mentioned, I’m a coordinator for living, and life with a child with special needs has really made spontaneous planning a thing of the past. Of course, things don’t always go as planned. We learned to adapt and our kids are so resilient that it usually works out for the best. But traveling is already a routine-changer and trying to plan our days away as much as possible has been so helpful.
Take the time to look at the weather predictions for the day(s), group with your hosts, and try to coordinate what the days may look like as much as possible. It will help with the predictability of the day, how to dress and what to pack. It’ll really help with the routine and structure that our little ones crave and need to thrive even on vacation!
TIP 4: ANSWER AND ALLOW FOR UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS
This spreads awareness, allows for conversation, and can literally save a life. When we visited my friend and her neurotypical children, my 6-year-old goddaughter had a lot of questions. I allowed all the questions and advised them that no question was too silly or unnecessary to ask. She opened up and was content with the answers I gave her. I also used that opportunity to advise her that my son was in a new surrounding and more curious than usual. I made sure to make her feel heard and answered everything I could at an age (and cognitive) appropriate level.
Thanks to this notion, my 6-year-old goddaughter knew exactly what actions to take when my son opened the side door and tried to escape. It also helped that my friend’s home was equipped with cameras that were able to detect the moment my son opened the door. She quite literally understood the assignment. Had we not had that conversation: would she have known what to do? Would she have felt comfortable doing that? They’re questions I’m very grateful we do not know the answers to.
TIP 5: ALLOW YOURSELF GRACE AND TIME TO HAVE FUN, TOO!
Don’t forget about your fun too, Mama! Sure–our kids come first, we have to adapt for them… yes. Yes to it all. But to avoid burnout and make sure trips and visits like this are truly worth the hassle, don’t forget to set aside some time for you to enjoy this trip too! No guilt, no worries, just grace and fun! So much of our lives are already devoted to our kids (whether they have special needs or not). Let’s not forget to allow ourselves to have fun and the grace to do so without the mental drainage of feeling anything BUT fun.
Your mind, body, and soul will thank you. And I can promise you, your child will not miss you for the extra little time you took for yourself.
Updated December 2023