This begins a five-part series on a topic that came up at the family dinner last night—travel and special needs kids. As we passed around the food, my son’s aunt and uncle talked about their recent trip and the flight home the night before. And we started wondering about special kids and travel. We tried to think of Down syndrome kids, or any special needs kids, that we’d seen on a plane, train, or even at a rest stop along a highway. None of us could recall but a few examples over a lot of travel among us spanning decades. We all asked, almost at the same time, “Why don’t we see more special kids traveling?”
One reason was in front of us at dinner. As we’d sat down to eat, my special needs son had clean hands and a high appetite. With the wonderful aromas of his aunt’s spaghetti sauce filling the kitchen, he scanned the table for bread, his favorite food. BUT, just five minutes earlier, he had been covered in poo from the waist down, his hands, too; and because he was in a cycle of defiance, just getting him to the dinner table had been a monumental task. So why would I ever want to travel away from the security and privacy of home? Deal with this kind of situation in a plane, train, or automobile? A hotel? An adventure park? Why bother? Many folks probably think that traveling with a special needs kid would be a living hell. Yes and no. But who doesn’t feel challenged traveling with kids away from home no matter if they’re special needs or not?
My little guy flies on planes, rides on trains, and buckles in for many long road trips. Each journey brings its own highs and lows, successes and failures, mistakes and miracles, but learning how to do these journeys with finesse and creativity is critical to having family travel fun. It’s so important and beneficial for our family to experience other cultures, people, and landscapes as well as for developing my son’s cognitive and social skills.
In this series, I want to share my experiences of traveling with my Down syndrome son, and offer some stories, lessons, tips and ideas, some learned the hard way, to transform traveling into a learning, fun, and colorful journey for everyone. Traveling together moves any family beyond their comfort levels to some degree. My little guy learns responsibility, pushing his abilities beyond his regular routine. He learns limits by learning to wait in lines. Perhaps most importantly, he steps out of the safety of his home network, including school.
As for me and the other family members, we’ve learned skills, techniques, and a state of mind that make traveling not only enjoyable but a way to enrich family life and offer the world a chance to interact with these special human beings and their families. The power of a hello, holding a door for a wheelchair, or even a smile helps break down stereotypes, and if only even for a moment, demonstrates that special needs kids really need and should be a normal a part of our society. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be, and that includes traveling on planes, trains, and automobiles! I hope you enjoy the series.
NEXT WEEK: preparing everyone’s head and suitcase for travel!
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