Happy Travels with a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
Throughout the year, you and your family are bound to hit the open road a time or two for one of a number of reasons. Many families may want to check out the scene in a new city. Others, will seek thrills at an amusement park or visit a family member that lives out of town. These trips can provide children with priceless learning opportunities and families with memories that will last a lifetime. For children with Sensory Processing Disorders however, these trips can be also be extremely challenging. Below are 6 tips and tricks to use in order to best support children who have difficulty processing sensory information on your next family vacation.
- Discuss what to expect: Talking about the specific logistics of a trip can help to ease your child’s anxiety about the ambiguity of what’s coming next. Similarly, it’s important to talk about what will be expected of your child while traveling. Here are some questions that your child may have prior to traveling. Think through each one and discuss them as a family before your next adventure begins:
- What is the mode of transportation (ie. plane, train, or automobile)?
- What will you see? Will there be a lot of people?
- What will you smell?
- What will you hear? Will it be loud?
- How much time will it take? What will you do to pass the time?
- How much space will your child have? Will there be time or room to play?
- What are the rules while traveling?
- Decrease the amount of extraneous and unfamiliar noise: Use noise cancelling headphones or calming music. Both strategies can help your child to calm themselves and more effectively process auditory sensory information, especially with the added stressors of travel.
- Prepare a backpack of travel essentials: Many adults pack a small carry-on bag with a few items that will help them pass the time. Items often include shoulder pillows, eye masks, ear phones and iPods; as well as a favorite book or magazine. For children with various sensory processing disorders, include some of the items listed below:
- Snacks, water, gum, or hard candies.
- Pack a heavy object to help your child regulate. A book or weighted blanket are great options.
- Bring a comfort object such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
- Include fun activities such as mini board games, coloring pages, books, or playing cards
- Call the airline or tourist destination ahead of time: Explain your child’s sensory needs. Certain airlines, parks, and museums have special accommodations for children with sensory processing disorders.
- Preparatory Heavy Work: Before taking off for your trip, or during breaks in travel, engage your kiddos in Heavy Work activities. Tasks include animal walks, pushing or pulling luggage, push ups, or big hugs from mom and dad. All of these activities provide your child’s big muscle and joint groups with proprioceptive input. This input is extremely regulating for children, like exercise could be for an adult, and will help to calm your child for the next leg of travel.
- Expect some ornery fellow passengers: While it is unfortunate, you may come across someone throughout your travels who will have a low tolerance for kids being kids. Depending on your comfort level in doing so (or your ability to turn the other cheek), write out small note cards explaining that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder and that as a family, you are doing the best you can to travel with minimal interruptions to the routines of those around you. You could even offer nearby passengers earplugs to help block out any extraneous noises.
The bottom line is that while traveling can be challenging, it can also be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved. With a fair amount of foresight and appropriate preparation, you can help to shape your trip into an experience of a lifetime for your whole family. Happy travels!
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!