Tracy Jensen has six children; one son has spina bifida, and her daughter has cerebral palsy. Both use wheelchairs.
“When we fly, some airlines are not as careful as others with wheelchairs,” says Jensen, who lives in Fountain Valley, California. “It’s a huge struggle getting down a plane’s aisle, and it’s hard to use the small restrooms.”
As a mother of children with special needs, Jensen is not alone in facing such travel hurdles. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, one in six children ages 3 to 17 have one or more developmental disabilities nationwide, and still more face other challenges. Conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, a visual or hearing problem, or mobility issues can feel like obstacles to travel.
They don’t have to be, says Dr. Arthur Lavin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. “Family vacations are a gift parents give to their kids,” he says. “As important as it is to share the world with typically developed children, it’s also important for special-needs children to have adventures and fun.”
Preparation can help make family vacations go smoothly
For Houston-based Lillian Howard, traveling with a son, who has Down syndrome, and two older children means planning activities for everyone.
“They all like zip lining and anything to do with water and the beach,” Howard says. “When the fireworks at Disney World were too loud for Mark, we just watched them from the hotel.”
These parents agree that despite challenges, family vacations are worth the effort. “The more prepared and patient you are, the less stressed you’ll be,” Jensen advises. “Don’t be afraid to travel.”