5 Tips to Help Make Travel Easier for a Neuro Diverse Family

September 16, 2020

I write this blog post from a cottage rental as part of our modified summer travel plans. We aren’t normally cottage rental people as our summers are usually spent travelling from city to city for baseball tournaments, or maybe a few days of camping, or a big summer travel adventure. But this summer we did things a bit differently and our only goal was to spend some time together as a family with a change of scenery after a long 4 months at home.

This is our second rental of the summer. The reason we don’t normally rent cottages is that there isn’t a ton for Maclain to do; they usually aren’t accessible and bugs are a big challenge for a kid who can’t swat away a mosquito! But we are not ones to stay home, and Maclain loves adventures. We always find a way to give him and us new experiences when we can.

I won’t lie, there are many, many, things that we must consider and plan for when we undertake any travel with Maclain. We have never let it stop us, however, from exploring, visiting, and experiencing the world around us. Here are some things we always try to adhere to before any road trip.

1. Take the time to research, and then research some more

It takes me a while to pull the trigger when we do decide to take a trip. I spend A LOT of time looking into everything, or at least trying to. Families like ours need to know as much as possible about the place we will be going to. Accessibility, healthcare providers, pharmacies, washroom facilities, accommodations, the list goes on. The more you prepare, the better things will go and hopefully you will not be caught in a situation that could be a deal breaker on your trip.

One big thing we always have to think about is that our kids often need special items that you cannot just pick up at your local grocery store or big-box retailer, especially if you are going to another country. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t compact, but we have a motto “when in doubt, pack it.” Not having an essential item is the quickest way to cut a trip short. Been there, done that.

For us, we have non-negotiables like batteries for Maclain’s cochlear implants, supplies for his bowel routine, and extra parts for his wheelchair. I once planned a special weekend away for myself and Maclain to go and see the Penguins play hockey in Pittsburgh. We got all the way there, we checked into the hotel, got dinner, made our way to the game and his batteries died. I had none on me, so we hiked it all the way back to the hotel. I realized I didn’t pack them.

Tears ensured from both of us, we walked all over downtown looking for a pharmacy. We finally find one that was still open, and miraculously found a battery that would work. By then, I was in hysterical sobs. So much so that the manager gave us the batteries for free! We then ran at break-neck speed back to the arena to try to  make it before the national anthem. That’s just one example of how such a little thing could ruin a weekend that took 6 months to plan.

2. Don’t rush

Give yourself a lot of time to get where you’re going. Recognize that getting out of the house is a feat all on its own some days. I have learned from experience that nothing goes as planned, and with that comes time delays. When I feel rushed, I start to panic and it sets us off on a bad vibe, which is not fun. We have enough on our plate with everything else, I do not need the added stress of running late for a flight or reservations, or checking in. When I give myself a time buffer, I immediately feel more relaxed.

3. Best laid plans……

Even the most meticulous plan falls apart at some point. It has happened to us on more than one occasion. As the saying goes “if I had a dollar for every time…” This is typical when you have a family member with a disability. The hotel you thought was accessible is not, the accommodations you requested were not available; and many other disappointments. I let myself get mad, pout, cry, stomp, whatever I need to do to acknowledge my feelings but then I usually stop and take stock.

Provided that safety isn’t a concern, or your family’s health or wellbeing is not being compromised, I try to not let the things that have gone wrong ruin our time away. We’ve had many trips that could have been side-railed because of physical barriers or attitudinal barriers, but we have always tried to just find a way around it, or choose another path.

We once went to Universal Studios with Maclain dressed head to toe in Spiderman apparel. Excitement could be felt coming from every pore of his body. We hit the first ride and were denied entry. We tried a second ride and were denied again. After a visit to guest relations we realized that there were no wheelchair rides and no rides that would allow me to hold him on my lap. Deflated, we asked for our money back, ready to just call it a day. The supervisor saw this poor kid, all spidey ready and decided to set up a private meet and greet for Maclain before we left the park.

It turned out she had a child with special needs and she just felt she couldn’t let us leave without making a fun memory. Our lemons quickly turned to lemonade. And with our refund we promptly drove to the magic kingdom and enjoyed accessible Disney magic until late into the evening.

4. Ask for help

It can get exhausting trying to manage everything on your own. There are usually helpful staff members onsite or online at most hotels, attractions and restaurants who will often go out of their way to make sure special needs can be accommodated. Even if they are not always sure how they can help, they are usually willing to learn. Be OK with someone opening doors, helping carry equipment, lending a hand with directions or showing you the way.

5. Let’s have some fun

With so much planning and worry that comes along with travelling, especially when faced with the obstacles that can accompany a family member who has a disability, you need to be able to take a deep breath and enjoy! Make some memories and embrace the incredible opportunities that come with travelling and seeing the world around you. Even mundane trips can have surprise elements that can make it a trip to remember. Take pictures, be silly, stay up late, buy the touristy t-shirt, love the time you have together.