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Have you considered sibling travel in your special needs family?
Having a family member with special needs can impact a family’s ability to do nearly everything in day-to-day life – eating, sleeping, and going just about anywhere. Travel can magnify these challenges. Whether it is in packing cases of a favorite food item in the car, or pre-arranging strategic airline seats, it can seem like an endless list of tasks. Traveling with the sibling(s) of your special needs family member can be part of the answer.
Our family started planning sibling travel when B was 10 years old, and I very much encourage your family to try something similar. Each summer, my husband and I alternate a week-long trip abroad with our neurotypical son. He gets the advantage of attention and focus (remember – fair is not equal), and we get the advantage of a smaller bill to foot for such experiences. And Mr. Diggy gets to maintain his routine, which, in the summer, includes a few hours a day in the pool, something that just isn’t doable in most Paris or London hotels, or in the Irish countryside.
Special needs often require special “stuff” -whether medical supplies, multiple iPads, or the giant fluffy blanket you cram into your carry-on on a flight to Hawaii (not naming names, or anything!). It can be hard to be a minimalist packer under these circumstances (and I don’t necessarily recommend skipping over the sensory survival kit). Sibling travel means less special stuff, which means faster loading and unloading of vehicles, faster boarding and disembarking on trains, planes, and boats. In other words – it just makes the travel itself faster and (generally) easier.
We spend a lot of time identifying places to stay that will fit our special needs family as a whole. When booking a room for a parent and 1-2 kids, it is a much less complicated, and often less expensive, affair. Hotel rooms are usually too close in proximity to each other to be a realistic option for our entire family – we risk being too noisy for other guests. They also typically lack the number of sleeping areas (three) required for a truly comfortable night’s sleep.
A room for two, with two beds, is reasonably easy to find in most places, at a range of price points. We recently chose this Paris hotel because of its incredibly central location. It would have been challenging – and costly – for our entire family to stay here, but it was great for just the two of us.
The museum first or lunch first? Walk or take the metro? Crepes or ice cream? All great vacation questions that can easily derail a family member with rigidity challenges. With one parent, and without the special needs kid(s), you have an entirely different group capacity to make – and act upon- such decisions. What was once unwieldy becomes manageable – and this nimbleness leads to more happy accidents, spur-of-the-moment choices, and other blessings of travel.
Your special needs loved one may have eating restrictions that make meals – and even snacks – more challenging. The timing, frequency, and contents or meals are all tricky to maintain while traveling, so sibling travel allows much more “go with the flow” in this department. (You also can’t underestimate that feeling when you can eat a meal without worrying that a) your child will knock or spill something from the table, b) your child will run around the restaurant or c) your child will break something).
And last, but certainly not least, is the time you get to spend with your neurotypical child or children when you plan sibling travel. This bonding, cemented by sharing new experiences, helps to fortify them for the other 51 weeks of the year when they may not have equal time and attention. The insights gained during car, plane, and train rides. The moments of growing maturity as they navigate new places. These are priceless.
So flip a coin with your spouse or partner, and figure out how to take some time – even a day or two – to allow your kid – or kids – without special needs to feel special for a time.
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