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4 Travel Tips for Teens and Tweens with Special Needs

According to the U.S. Census report, Americans with Disabilities: 2010, close to eight percent of children under the age of 15 have a physical disability. For those 15-24, the probability of having a severe disability is 1 in 20. And while these figures are substantially lower than those associated with older adult populations, it nonetheless represents millions of tweens and teens who are living with a disability.

That means many families hit the road and fly the friendly skies while having to navigate the challenges that come with having a tween or teen with special needs. The following tips will help these families better plan and execute their future travel plans with ease.

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Check for wheelchair accessibility in advance

If you are using a vehicle that isn’t yours, traveling to an area you haven’t visited before, or are staying in a new place, research wheelchair accessibility options well in advance of your trip. Planning on hitting the road? Consider a *wheelchair accessible motor coach*. It’s a great option for families, especially those who want to avoid the hectic hustle and bustle of the airport.

If you’re staying in a hotel, ask for an accessible room, preferably on the first floor, as elevators are often turned off during emergencies. Confirm door widths – including bathroom door widths – and find out if there is an accessible shower in the room.

Non-stop flights can reduce delays

One of the biggest hurdles for any air traveler is the possibility that flights will be delayed or canceled entirely. For parents traveling with tweens or teenagers who have disabilities, a schedule shift can wreak havoc on carefully laid plans. For instance, the next available flight may not have made the necessary accommodations for your child because you were not originally scheduled on that flight.

With non-stop flights, for the most part, you can avoid such hassles, as one delayed flight won’t have a domino effect on your entire travel itinerary. However, flights longer than a few hours can become too much for some teenagers with different types of disabilities, such as autism or mood disorders. Balance the risks of delays and cancellations against the length of a non-stop flight and your child’s usual ability to cope with confined spaces for long periods of time.

Bring your child’s service animal

If you’re driving, bringing along your child’s service dog is relatively simple. But if you’re flying, do some prep ahead of time to make sure you don’t run into any problems the day of your flight. First and foremost, know that your child’s service animal is allowed *on the plane* with them. Of course, just because the law says your child has a right to fly with their service dog doesn’t mean you won’t run into problems. Call the airport along with your airline a few days before your departure date to find out what preparations can be made ahead of time to ensure you aren’t hassled because of the presence of your four-legged helper.

Make a list of potential problems and develop a plan

Many parents of tweens and teenagers with special needs find it helpful to write out a list of the* challenges* they face on an ordinary day. Does your child become bored easily? Does he have trouble coping or focusing in noisy environments? Taking along plenty of travel-friendly activities and a noise-canceling headset can help overcome these problems.

Prepare for each potential obstacle and pack accordingly. If you’re able, you might consider sticking to a well-organized carry-on suitcase rather than checking a bag. This way, you’ll reduce the chances that your luggage could get lost. Certain challenges and circumstances can impact your travel arrangements, too. For example, you may decide to drive instead of fly if your child has a compromised immune system or if her condition makes it dangerous for her to become sick.

Practice runs and comfort items can help teens cope with travel stress

Remember, traveling can be just as stressful for your child as it can be for everyone else, if not more so. These effects are often amplified for teenagers with disabilities and can lead to communication difficulties. Imagine feeling anxious and hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, or just downright uncomfortable and not being able to communicate that to your family.

That’s why practice runs can be helpful for tweens and teens who have special needs. A no-pressure run-through on a day when you’re not actually traveling can help your child prepare for the sights, sounds, and experiences they will encounter when travel day arrives. If your child has a special comfort item or a favorite activity, be sure to take these items along to ease anxiety and offer welcome distractions.

Traveling with tweens and teens who have special needs requires a bit of flexibility and pre-planning, but it doesn’t have to guarantee a stressful travel experience for your family. In fact, with accessible options and travel programs, along with a few tips and strategies for planning ahead for unexpected obstacles and common challenges, travel can be an enjoyable experience for all.

About the author

Rebecca Moore fractured her ankle in a bike accident in March 2015. Temporarily disabled, she soon felt isolated from her peers and was crushed to realize this is a common problem for people with disabilities. She went on to create with a friend in an effort to provide more disability resources and make the world a more caring place. Visit to learn more.

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