Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Traveling with a Special Needs Child

My son is twelve, and has multiple handicaps. In the current parlance, he is developmentally delayed but he is non-verbal, not toilet trained, and small-statured. He is also ambulatory, well-adjusted, and takes direction well. He is as atypical as they come.

So what is it like traveling with him?

Vacationing with him has been generally successful. We always fear that he will have an explosive bowel movement at an inconvenient time, but although that fear is not unfounded it has rarely occurred (he did get a new set of socks at Disney, so rare doesn't mean never). Still, this is what we have done with them.

Lake Nippissing
A cabin in the woods, on the bank of a river. Since he was with us the whole time, there were no problems. He enjoyed the playgrounds at Callander and North Bay.

Turks and Caicos
We enjoyed a stay at Beaches Resorts in Turks and Caicos. The kids program staff was wonderful towards our son. He would run towards the kids area every morning. The only problem we encountered was immigration and customs. Our son hates waiting in line and ended up bawling inconsolably.

Disney World
Steve melts down in lines, so we obtained a pass that allowed us to skip the lines. That helped, but the heat and the walking made him grumpy and whiny. Dark rides scared him, fast rides thrilled him.

Niagara Falls
This was a short fall trip. Christmas decorations were out on the Canadian side. The hotel had a nice pool. This was an easy excursion for us to make.

Seattle and Vancouver
He liked the Space Needle. Would have enjoyed swimming in Vancouver, but the pools were closed due to a city worker strike.

Nickelodeon Resort (visited Orlando amusement parks other than Disney) and Sarasota
Big breakfasts and pools at Nickelodeon. He did well at Sea World and Universal. Loved swimming at the beach in Sarasota. Fun trip.

Stayed at the Beaches Resort in Negril. Had a babysitter the whole week (for about $200) who helped him participate in kids' activities and took him swimming. He had a blast. Same melt down in immigration, though.

Washington DC
Lots of walking and looking at things beyond his understanding and interests, but he did well to endure it knowing that he would be rewarded with pool time in the evening.

He enjoyed swimming in the pool and the ocean.

Boston and Acadia
Lots of walking in Boston during a heat wave, but he liked Riding the Ducks. Also enjoyed Lulu the Lobster Boat out of Bar Harbor.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
No swimming, but horseback riding and boating were his favorites. He generally tolerated the hiking.

As you can see, we've been able to enjoy a wide variety of trips with only minor allowances for his handicaps. There are things we just cannot do with him, though. We cannot go white water rafting. We cannot enjoy a day at Cedar Point as a family. But I would encourage those with special needs people in their lives to give it a go with a bit of extra planning.

Edit: you can cross off Cedar Point from the things Stephen can't do. He has been able to enjoy riding the roller coasters there with his special needs high school class using their virtual line system.


  1. Nice to see a post on a non-verbal child. My son is non-verbal, 17 and pretty big. One of my nieces is getting married and I was kicking around trying to take him on a flight but the potential for disaster is so high that I'm pretty sure my wife will just stay at home.

    Anyway, as I said, nice to see a write-up about a non-verbal child with some behaviors that are pretty familiar.

    1. All children are different, so use your best judgment.

      This last year we took a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. Their children's program was not as accommodating at Beaches was. Our son enjoyed it, but it felt to us that the staff were too quick to call us.

    2. An a person with Asperger's, I will say this only once: American parents (and the American people in general) have to start calling on reform of the TSA, or (if possible) its elimination.. People should not have to put of with the intrusiveness of this organization, especially with how it handles children (these videos show why):

      Another reason is that what goes on is just security theater that doesn't solve the problem it was devised to stop, and is also just CYA (Cover Your Ass) security: (

      Treating disabled children (and near-adults like your son) like this isn't right, and isn't working anyway.