Travel Tips from Kaufman Children’s Center Therapists

Detroit Mom partnered with the amazing people at Kaufman Children's Center to bring you this post. All opinions are our own.

Spring break and the summer season are right around the corner, and for many families that means vacation time. Some parents, however, may not be so quick to make plans. Traveling with children is almost always tricky–but traveling with kids who have diagnoses such as autism or sensory processing difficulties adds an extra element of planning.

Don’t put your trip on hold just yet, though! The occupational therapists, behavior analysts, and speech pathologists from Kaufman Children’s Center have some tips to make your time away easier on everyone.

Before You Go

Many children feel more comfortable if they know what to expect ahead of time. Here are a few ways to help:

  • Count down on a calendar how many days are left until the vacation begins/ends.
  • If your family plans to fly, watch airplane videos and role play airport procedures such as security checks, boarding, taking off, and landing. You might even visit an airport to get your child accustomed to the atmosphere.
  • Make simple sequence stories with pictures of each part of the trip (plane rides, hotel rooms, attractions, possible crowds, etc.). Take the stories along on your trip to remind them what’s next.

What to Pack

Take along items and activities that fight boredom (during travel, while waiting in line, and during other downtime on your trip) and help kids feel calm in overwhelming environments. Sensory supports are excellent options that achieve both purposes! Here are a few ideas on things to pack:

  • Chewing gum, which can also combat nausea
  • Relaxing music, such as familiar kid songs or classical music selections
  • Tactile fidgets for input through the hands, like hair ties, rubber band balls, stress balls, or twisty toys
  • Weighted blankets or lap pads for calming deep pressure

Getting There

Before getting on the plane or in the car, have kids perform physical “heavy work.” These activities promote a calm state and will help them to be able to sit for longer periods. Here are a few ideas:

  • Arm push-ups on chairs or walls
  • Deep-pressure hugs and squeezes
  • Frog jumps or jumping jacks
  • Pushing/pulling the luggage

Once you’re on your way, break out the sensory supports listed above, and also try a few of these favorite activities to keep kids engaged:

  • Clip small clothespins all around kids’ travel areas for an easy scavenger hunt.
  • Engage in fine-motor tasks such as sticker books, coloring books, and dry erase boards.
  • Enjoy simple activities like puzzles and blocks. Try hiding small objects inside balls of putty for kids to find!

Ensuring Safety

Keeping kids safe in unfamiliar environments is a top worry for vacationing parents. Here are a few helpful items recommended by Kaufman Children’s Center therapists (widely available through Amazon or other retailers):

  • Door alarms: Inexpensive portable alarms sound off when a door is opened from outside or inside. They are a great solution to make sure kids don’t leave the hotel room without you knowing.
  • Ear protection: Kids with sensory challenges can benefit from ear protection to reduce anxiety in noisy environments. Try headphones or ear plugs, depending on their preference.
  • Wrist bands: Write your contact information on cute, adjustable bands to help ensure kids are found quickly if lost. They are available in many different styles, including waterproof options.

If your child tends to wander or bolt away, consider a GPS tracking device, such as AngelSense or other wearable device. They give kids greater independence and confidence while giving peace of mind to parents and caregivers, who can track their locations. Read more about the service on the Autism Alliance of Michigan’s website.

Getting a Little Help

If your trip includes an amusement park or other attraction, research their disability policies ahead of time. Many have thoughtful plans in place to help make visits comfortable and memorable for everyone. Some even provide quiet spaces when a child needs down time.

One last pro tip: Ask your child’s therapy team for a letter requesting special accommodations, such as early boarding or skipping lines. It should be signed and on letterhead, listing what the child is being treated for and which situations they need help with. These letters work in some locations and not others, but are always worth a shot.

Happy travels!

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Whitney Cornelli
Whitney lives in Rochester Hills with her hard-working husband, their three daughters, and their German Shepherd. She is an MSU grad (Go Green!) who taught elementary school before trading in her classroom to become a SAHM. At naptime, you can find her editing blog content for Detroit Mom and running the community groups on Facebook. She loves to find new places to take her kids to, and one of these days she will figure out how to get out the door in a timely fashion. She enjoys connecting with other moms and sharing the triumphs and struggles of motherhood with them!


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