It’s that time of year again. The season to get out the summer calendar and plan those family road trips to grandma’s house, the beach, or the Grand Canyon. Or, maybe your brood likes to jet set abroad. Either way, are there factors at play that make travelling challenging for your child with learning disabilities (LD) or other special needs? What unique decisions and challenges does your family face each travel season when it comes to LD?
Like most families, we definitely structure our travel plans around what our kids are capable of handling.You wouldn’t plan for a two-year-old to sit in the car for 8 hours straight without a break, for example. Similarly, many parents of children with LD and special needs must take into account unique factors about their children’s needs and abilities as they prepare to hit the road.
Get tips directly from Lyn herself!See the video below.
Are We There Yet?Probably the most significant challenge families face when traveling is the classic complaint: Boredom. Most kids get just plain bored when they have to sit, wait, and sit and wait some more as you travel. But, kids with LD and ADHD often have an especially difficult time managing boredom. And not being able to answer the fateful question “Are we there yet?” with anything but “No, not yet!” only adds to their frustration.When planning your travel activities to combat boredom, take your child’s needs related to LD into account. For example, drawn out episodes of classic travel games like the License Plate game may be torture for kids who do not enjoy focusing on letters and numbers. Keep an eye on how much time your family is spending on these activities, and substitute Eye Spy (looking for colors) or “100 Bottles of Coke on the Wall” when the time is right. This switch-up works like a charm for my dyslexic daughter.
My son, who has sensory processing challenges, gets car sick really easily while reading books or doing writing activities. If this is the case for your kiddo, try packing books on tape, audio books and DVDs that have the same stories that your child might otherwise be reading. And for dyslexic children, audio books are always a great choice!
Get a Move OnRest stops play a big role in travel for any child. If you have a child with LD, make sure to incorporate lots of time to stop, play and move along the way. Plan ahead by packing small, lightweight activities and toys that encourage exercise at each pit stop such a soft Frisbee, jump rope or inflatable beach ball.
No room for toys? Encourage your kids to play a game of Duck Duck Goose or Tag. And, make sure to take advantage of public rest areas to engage with other families and children from different places headed to different destinations. It never hurts to insert a little social skills practice!
Make It UpTraveling means planning down-time activities, and plenty of them. Traveling often also means missing Speech, Occupational Therapy (OT), Dyslexia or other therapy sessions. Plan to use extra down-time and screen time on the road to make up for it.
Use mobile apps and gamesto help keep up with where your child left off in OT, speech, or language therapy.
Ask your child’s therapist for suggestions and download them while you have Wi-Fi access at home.
Use down time during travel to work on speech articulation in the car.
Borrow flash cards from your child’s therapist.
Pack audio books or download them to your iPad or e-reader before you leave.
Encourage your kids to spend equal time on educational or therapeutic activities as on playing games.
Develop a “New Friends” journal for your kids to keep on the trip. Encourage them to jot down notes about children they meet at the beach, the resort or on the plane. Have them record names and details about each new friend (color of their hair, where they are from, favorite food, etc.) to encourage your kids to get to know new people and exercise their social muscles while on the road.
Just BehaveLike many kids, my kids with LD tend to have a harder time with behavior when we are away from home. While this is to be expected to some extent, a change in routine combined with the stress and fatigue of travel just makes things worse.
Here are a few strategies to manage behavior issues while traveling:
Use a behavior chart or app (try Beep Boop) – This will make behavior tracking on the trip more fun. Allow your child to earn points for meeting goals, and then cash them in for an extra-special souvenir at the end of the trip or at a special destination along the way.
Punish reasonably – While punishments on vacation are sad, they are also often inevitable. But make sure punishments for bad behavior on trips are fair to the entire family. Don’t say, “We’re not going to go swimming today,” when you know that your entire day is planned around the pool. Instead, use a poolside time out.
Comfort ZoneProbably the most important thing for any child while traveling is that they feel safe and sound while away from home. Allow your child to take a special blanket or toy (even if it’s not the one that fits in the suitcase) and give them extra patience as they adjust to your travel routine. Also, let kids who deal with anxiety have a sense of control when appropriate, such as letting them choose between two restaurants or which souvenir shop you’ll visit on the boardwalk. I’ve noticed that my kids seem to go with the flow better when we’re out of town if they both understand the set up (how long we’ll be gone, where they’ll be sleeping, what we’ll be eating, etc.) and if they have a measure of control over a few of the decisions.
Take It HomeMost of all, as you employ the above with your kids while traveling, don’t leave it on the road! Make note of what works well on vacation and then use the same strategies back at home. Make the behavior app a new routine, and encourage audio books on your regular commute rather than Angry Birds. Allow your kids to make choices in situations where you note it alleviates their anxiety—on an ongoing basis.
Think of your trip as a chance to develop some new “best practices” for your kids with LD that you can then use on the home front. And, the next time you travel, you’ll have an even better routine in place to help your kids with LD face challenges on the road.
Lyn Pollard is a freelance writer, parent advocate, and the mother of two kids who learn and play differently. A former journalist and change management consultant, Lyn writes, talks and tweets about advocacy, literacy and safe schools for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Check out her piece in the New York Times.