4 Travel Tips If Your Child Has Sensory Issues
Traveling with your child who has sensory processing issues? Here are 4 tips that can make things go much smoothly as you travel.
Travel Tip 1: Allow extra time for transitions and spell out for your child what those transitions will be like.
Kids with sensory issues struggle to handle transitions. They just get used to one sensory environment or set of expectations and then suddenly, they have to adjust to a new environment and new expectations. They have to go from the warm house to the cold outdoors to a warm car, or from wearing everyday clothes they’ve become comfortable in to putting on a coat and maybe mittens and a hat. Giving them verbal warnings or visual warnings can help ease the transition. Patiently talk your child through the sequence of activities involved in the transition, or provide a picture to do list with photos or line drawings of what the transition involved: “First, we’ll go to the car and take a ride to the bus station. There, we will park the car and wait for the bus, in chairs and then in a line…”
Travel Tip 2: Be prepared with sensory diet activities and accommodations that you know help your child.
If your child is calmed by a snow globe that she can shake up, then hold as she watches the “snow” flakes fall through the water and settle onto the bottom of the snow globe, be sure to carry one with you. If breathing techniques you have taught him help him manage his anxiety, practice them with him before you travel and remind him that he can always use these if he feels that he is getting anxious. Provide oral comforts such as chewing gum or a nontoxic chewing item like a pendant on a string (if that’s appropriate for your child). Think ahead about where you might get away from the noise and visual stimulation for a few minutes to support your child in self-regulating. Is there an airport lounge you can go to? A quiet space outdoors?
Travel Tip 3: Get in some heavy work.
Heavy work, which is so helpful for self-regulation in a child with sensory processing issues, can be hard to squeeze in when you’re traveling because so much sitting is involved when you’re on a plane (“Keep your seatbelts fastened!”), in a car or on a bus, or in a public waiting area. You might have your child take a break to climb up and down some stairs, hold on to the sides of his seat and lift himself up and down (chair pushups), or walk over to a wall and do pushups against a wall. Pulling or carrying luggage that is a reasonable weight for him to manipulate is a great way to get heavy work, too.
Travel Tip 4: Know that the unexpected will happen and be gentle with yourself and your child.
It’s easy to stress out about getting judgmental looks or worse, comments from strangers if your child gets hyperactive, fusses, or acts anxious when you are in public spaces traveling. Traveling is stressful for everyone, and you can’t control the responses of strangers to your child’s behavior. Focus on calming yourself and your child so that you’re both more comfortable. Don’t worry about what others say or do. Be open to the possibility that some other parent who has been there will take the time to educate that person about the struggles of traveling with children who need a little extra help and attention. You’d be surprised how many parents have been there and will step up to help you out! You just focus on what you need to do to support your child.
Want more practical tips and strategies for raising a sensory smart child? Pick up a copy of Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues today.