16 Special Needs-Friendly Tips for Family Car Travel
We all know long car journeys can be stressful, so if you’re planning a spring break this year, don’t leave home without these top tips.
The following suggestions have all been contributed to Scope by parents of children with special needs. We hope you will find them useful, and please feel free to add your own in the comments section below!
1. Reduce their stress
If your child finds car travel stressful, try and understand why. For example, do they dislike the smell of the car, the noise, being restrained, etc.? Use comfort items, such as blankets, ear defenders, blinds on windows, and go for neutralising rather than strong air fresheners.
2. Book your parking
Lots of places have reserved disabled parking. Phone ahead and try and book yourself a spot.
3. Map it out
We always tell my son, Ben exactly where we’re going in advance so there are no surprises. We show him our route on the map, so he can check off towns and motorway exits as we go along. It keeps him occupied and happy!
4. Download those apps
Download some of your child’s favorite games, films or activities on to their iPad before you go.
5. Pack the kids last
If you’re going on a long trip, make sure you pack the car before you put the children in. You don’t want boredom or anxiety to set in too early!
6. Crelling harnesses
Crelling harnesses supply a large range of belts and harnesses for car travel with children who have special needs. They have been specially designed to offer postural support.
7. Reduce the glare
Tinted windows can help reduce uncomfortable glare if your child is sensitive to light. Alternatively, you can get removable shades to attach to rear windows.
8. Magnetic whiteboards
Magnetic whiteboards are great for long car journeys. You can pick up small ones from supermarkets and stationers, and magnetic numbers and letters, animals, etc. and play without the mess of felt tip markers and crayons.
9. The bag of last resort
We always travel with a ‘bag of last resort’ (usually with our son's favorite treat) in case we get stuck in traffic or roadworks, or we have an escalating behavior situation. Once we've tried everything else, we use the ‘last resort’ bag. It always helps!
10. Reverse the buckles
If you have a mini-Houdini who is always unbuckling their seat belt, just turn the buckles around. In the event of an accident, firemen just cut the belt; they never undo the buckle, so there is no problem with getting out in an emergency.
11. Buckle Boss
Another option for your mini-Houdini if the above tip doesn't work. To keep a child from undoing a standard seatbelt, try a Buckle Boss. It's a device which fits over the part containing the seat belt release button. Easily opened with a car key or popsicle stick (or similar) but impossible with just fingers.
12. Keep it in reach
When travelling in the car, attach favorite toys or fidgets to long springy key rings or ribbons. I clip these onto a loop of elastic around the headrest. That way everything stays within their reach.
13. Cut out distractions
Distracting the driver can be very dangerous. Think of ways to reduce projectile toys being thrown from the back seat. I typically sit in the back with the kids so that my husband can focus on driving safely.
14. Overnight travel
When we’re going on a long car journey, we often travel at night so that my son Jacob sleeps through most of it. Means we’re a bit tired in the morning, but eliminates so much stress that it’s worth it!
15. Create a distraction
If someone is getting really agitated in the car, try dramatically changing the environment: open all the windows, turn the music up loud, create a distraction with a funny story or a song.
16. Stock up on snacks
If your child is sensitive to certain foods or will only eat a limited range of snacks, make sure you stock up on snacks before you set off to avoid getting caught short of supplies.
Looking for more car travel tips? Read 70+ Tips and Tricks for Special Needs Road Trips
Emma Sterland helps run the online community at Scope, a national UK-based disability charity, offering support for disabled people and their families. All the tips used in this post were contributed by members of the online community, and can be seen in the tips section of the community .