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How To Make A Holiday Road Trip Fun For A Child With Special Needs

Published December 22, 2015

By Angela Tollersons

Any parent who has ever taken a road trip with young children can tell you that several hours stuck in a car is no picnic for anyone and for families with a child with special needs, additional complexities are thrown into the mix and can make long road trips more taxing for all involved. If you’re heading out on a road trip this holiday season with a child with special needs, these tips will help turn your trip into a fun adventure for everyone.

Rent a Car with Ample Space and Features

Even if your own car is ordinarily suitable for everyday travel, you might consider renting a car with special features for a long holiday road trip. Renting an accessible car with extra space can mean more room to relax, plus you can take advantage of special features like built-in DVD players to help occupy busy minds.

Map Your Route and Plan for Ample Rest Stops

With GPS, smartphones, and other technology, it’s now possible to plan a road trip like never before. Mapping out your route, along with an alternate or two in the event that you run into traffic jams, is not only a good idea, but it can be a sanity-saver during the busy holiday travel season. Thanks to the ability to pinpoint every rest stop and exit area with restaurants, shopping, and other ways to get a break from sitting in a car for hours, you’ll know precisely how many minutes you are from the next fun activity when your child needs a break.

Check into Geocaching in the Areas Where You’ll Be Traveling

What’s Geocaching? It’s the world’s largest treasure hunt, of course. Search for a Geocache in the areas where you’ll be stopping for a break. Get the whole family involved in the hunt by guessing what treasures you may find and sharing the story of your family’s experience with the world after.

Pack a Road-Trip Goody Bag

The biggest challenge for most children during lengthy road trips is the simple fact that they’re boring. New toys and sensory experiences are one of the best ways to alleviate boredom, so head to the dollar store or discount store and stock up on some small-but-interesting gadgets and gizmos that will both excite and occupy your child during the restless hours of your trip.

Bring Fido

The great thing about traveling by car is that it is a little bit easier to bring along your four-legged family members. Studies have shown that our pets help us to manage our anxiety, and that certainly holds true for children with special needs. If your child experiences travel anxiety or discomfort having their trusted furry friend by their side can be a great way to help them relax and enjoy the ride. That said, not all pets will be able to make the holiday trip. If you do decide to choose a dog boarding option in your area, take your child with you when you drop your pet off with the sitter or kennel. When they see that he or she will be in loving hands, they’ll feel a bit better about being separated from them over the holidays.

Take Fun Snacks

Even parents know that eating always sounds like a fabulous activity when you’re bored silly. Take ample snack items that create minimal mess (to save your parent-sanity) yet are fun and seasonal. For example, make some holiday-themed cookies or put together a batch of “reindeer food,” which can be anything you imagine that’s suitable for your child’s dietary needs, such as a special trail mix that you’ve created yourself.

Be Prepared with Your Itinerary and Social Story

Social stories are one of the best ways to ease your child’s anxieties about a change in routine or environment, and sharing and reviewing your social story for your trip is an excellent way to pass the time while making the trip itself more fun. Talk about the things you’ll do, the sights you’ll see, and the people you’ll meet.

This year, commit to making your holiday road trip a fun, exciting experience that brings your whole family joy instead of a stressful outing that leaves you and your child exhausted. Heading into travel day with a relaxed attitude, a plan to have a good time, and the flexibility to take detours and go with the flow will make for a memorable holiday journey for all.

Angela Tollersons loves blogging  about nutrition, physical fitness, mental health, and how rewarding life can be when those factors are in balance. When she isn’t writing or volunteering with a national bullying prevention organization, she loves spending time with her family—her son, James, who is on the autism spectrum and her husband. They live in North Carolina.

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