Traveling with a special needs child can be accomplished with a little planning, a lot of love, and the desire to share new experiences with your child. As you get excited about the new adventures abroad, be sure to include your child in the planning, packing, and all preparations. Get your child’s doctor or therapist’s ideas, referrals, and protocol to follow once you resume treatment in a new location.
My Experience with Special Needs Children
From 1997 to 2009, I was a foster mom to over 70 “at-risk special-needs” foster children, mostly infants, toddlers, and sibling groups.
I learned that the best way to prepare small children for anything from haircuts to group photos, doctor visits, or attending holiday fireworks displays, was to talk about where we were going, and what we would see, hear, feel, etc., always focusing on the positive.
And by bringing snack foods and water, we could easily solve most problems or apprehensions. We could even bridge long trips with a healthy box of raisins, coloring books, and a lot of laughter.
Special Needs: Mapping Out a Travel Route
If you are moving to another country and plan to drive with your special needs child, make sure your travel route follows hospitals or clinics, pre-marked, and easily accessible, if needed. I had to do this with my son, who had suffered from seizure disorder from birth, and though his neurologist had signed him off as “all clear”, I was still in the good habit of knowing where all the emergency rooms were for any trip we took.
When my son turned three years old, we took a train from California to New York, to meet his grandparents, and it was the first and only time I had not considered marking our route for hospitals.
His grandmother was a registered nurse, so we only needed to get there. But I had wrongly assumed there would be a medic or doctor on board our trains. Everything went smoothly, until on our way home, my son got sick, and his fevers became severe enough to throw him into seizure mode.
We were let off the train at the nearest children’s hospital in the middle of the night, where an ambulance whisked us off to the hospital and my son received treatment.
Moving with Your Special Needs Child
The next day, they flew us home, and I vowed to always map out a travel route and ask about emergency medical techs or professionals onboard a plane, or any other mode of public transportation. You can always hire a home healthcare worker to travel along with your family or do as I did: enrolling in nursing and CPR training as part of my Early Childhood Development and Education Master’s degree courses.
It will be important to research your host county for hospitals, treatment centers, and other educational facilities, which will further your child’s extended learning, counseling, therapy, etc. The closer you’re located to these specialized centers, the happier your family will be. Once settled and back on daily treatment schedules, you can incorporate your traveling adventures into family-fun memories.
However, before moving, you will need to get your child’s medical clearance from their treating physician, doctor referrals for the expat country, fill prescriptions, pack any medical devices, and check with your airline about requirements for medical-service animals. They would classify these animals as more than just pets, but as “essential-care” Assistance Animals or Service Dogs. See my blog article titled “Expat Pets? What to Expect When Bringing Your Pet Along”.
Special Needs Children: Settling into Your New Country
The sooner you can get your special-needs child back into their treatment routines, the safer they will feel, and the fewer “episodes” they’re likely to have. I am also a firm believer in treats, which help “imprint” your child’s emotional health, such as healthy snacks, hugs, and enthusiastic clapping, when a great accomplishment has been achieved — like moving to a different country!
Healthy snack treats, like raisins, nuts (for over 3-years-olds), and home-baked oatmeal cookies go a long way to encourage a special-needs child. I also enjoyed making my kids healthy smoothies (I love them too)! They can include vegetables your kids won’t eat otherwise, or ground prescription meds they won’t swallow otherwise.
With enough ice, milk (you could use coconut milk if allergic to dairy), and natural sweeteners, like berries, bananas, honey, or Stevia, you can add almost any healthy ingredient, like spinach, broccoli, green beans, etc., and they won’t even know they’re getting the veggies they refuse to eat with dinner!
If you’ve had fears of traveling or moving to a different country with your special-needs child, worry no more! Using these tips and heeding the advice that was given to me, you’ll have a smooth trip and a beautiful new life in your host country, making family-fun memories together.
Why not help other parents by telling us about your adventures moving with a special needs child? What worked to occupy and calm your special needs child, and what did not?
by: Cheri Majors, M.S.