This is a guest post by Sean Morris of Learnfit.org. This former social worker turned stay-at-home dad shares his best tips for keeping your child with special needs safe while you enjoy a fun-filled summer.
Summer is a wonderful time for families to take time to relax, bond, and have some fun, but there can be many things to take into consideration if you have a child with special needs. Not only does their safety need to be your concern, but also the concern of any caregivers and family members you might spend time with. While taking a vacation and traveling may seem overwhelming for some, it doesn’t have to be. With the right preparation, summertime can be fun for everyone.
Making checklists and keeping open communication with family members is a great way to kick off a safe summer. By keeping track of everything your child with special needs might require for safety or general well-being–and sharing it with others in the family–you’ll have peace of mind when the time comes to take a trip or have a day at the beach.
Long car rides can be excruciating for active kids, but there are things you can do to ensure their comfort and keep them happy during the trip. Keep any medication in a resealable plastic bag or small cooler than can fit on the floor near your feet for easy access.
Often, children with special needs require car seats or booster seats; make sure these are installed properly and that any harnesses or belts are where they need to be on your child. Growth spurts can make this a priority more often than you might think, but you can check with your local fire department for help on how to get it right.
For long trips in the car, engage their minds with fun activities; play the license plate game (which entails “collecting” license plates from different states/provinces as you pass them on the highway), or fill a metal lunchbox with colorful letter magnets (if small parts are safe) so they can spell out words. If you have a large family and will be traveling together, keep in mind that traveling in a noisy, confined space might be uncomfortable with some children who have special needs, so noise-cancelling headphones are a great way to help them feel safe. Also, allowing them to bring a small favorite toy or stuffed animal will help keep them calm.
Hitting the beach
Any outdoor activity should be planned out well ahead of time so children with special needs can have fun while staying safe. Beaches, parks, and swimming pools are great examples of places that offer fun activities but can lead to overheating and exhaustion. Children diagnosed with spina bifida are more at risk than many others for heat sensitivity, and some medications require little to no sun exposure. Keep ice packs and water bottles in a cooler and bring a large umbrella to beach and park activities to prevent overheating, and communicate with other family members regarding the importance of helping your child with special needs stay cool.
Spending time in unfamiliar places
Whether you’re staying with family you don’t see very often or hanging out in a busy park, there are times when you may find it necessary to talk to your child about how to interact with strangers. Every family has a different policy on what to do, and every environment is different; some places may be full of acquaintances, while others are full of people you’ve never seen before. Some children with special needs don’t understand the difference, while others have a hard time with socializing and communication. It’s important to talk to the entire family about how to handle different situations that may arise and let your child know what to do if they feel uncomfortable.
Staying in a hotel or at someone else’s house can require some planning, as well. Making the environment safe for your child, as well as ensuring their comfort, can be a bit tricky. However, if you make sure your host knows what you need before you arrive–such as items that need to be put up in the kitchen or any food allergies that might be a problem–it will be easier on everyone involved and your family can focus on having fun.
Sleeping away from home can prove to be an issue for some children, and for parents as well. Provided there are no potential allergy interactions, there are some natural remedies you can try so that your trip is a restful one.
Taking a family trip can be stressful at the best of times for some due to safety concerns, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning ahead and packing according to needs that might arise due to environment will ensure you and your child can have the best possible summer.
Sean Morris is a former social worker turned stay-at-home dad. He knows what it’s like to juggle family and career. He did it for years until deciding to become a stay-at-home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he has found this additional time with his kids to be the most rewarding experience of his life. He began writing for LearnFit.org to share his experiences and to help guide anyone struggling to find the best path for their life, career, and/or family.