Traveling with any child can be a daunting experience, but traveling with a child that has Sensory Processing Disorder or Autism can be especially difficult. Children with Sensory Processing issues can be oversensitive to sights, sounds, textures, flavors, smells and other sensory input. While parents can regulate these in their homes and daily lives, the sights, sounds and smells while traveling can be an assault on someone with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
In our family's many travels, I've developed what I call a SPD Travel Toolkit. This toolkit is used to help my son with SPD regulate himself better when he's having sensory issues on our vacations.
Why do we travel with an SPD Travel Toolkit?
My youngest son has Sensory Processing Disorder. The photo above was taken during the night-time fireworks at Walt Disney World. This scene also happens during loud music concerts and parades with firetrucks that put on their sirens. When the loud noises become too overwhelming, he shuts down and just sits with this hands over his ears.
So what's in our SPD Travel Toolkit?
- Fidget toys (spinners and cubes), small bag of Legos, Silly Putty (or Thera-putty), small cans of Play Doh
- Sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat: for light sensitivity on those sunny vacation days
- Gum, chewy snacks, or chew toys: for oral input
- Noise-cancelling headphones: to block out or lessen the sounds of fireworks, loud music, or the many sounds that can bombard a child with SPD
- Scented lip balm: to sniff when unfamiliar smells assault the nose (we like Vanilla, Cake Batter, or Strawberry scented lip balm).
We carry the SPD Travel Toolkit in a large backpack, and the toolkit itself becomes a tool. Kids with SPD and Autism can benefit from "Hard Work" or tasks that involves heavy resistance and input to the muscles and joints. Carrying around a heavy backpack can be considered Heavy Work, and can help a child improve attention and body awareness, as well as decrease defensiveness.
While parents cannot control their child's sensory environment while on vacation, they can carry tools with them to help alleviate the stress it can put on their son or daughter. Having the right tools with you can avert sensory meltdowns, and can ensure more fun and happy memories being made while on your family vacations.
Nicole Thibault is the owner of Magical Storybook Travels, a travel agency that specializes in Family Travel and Travel for Families with Special Needs. She's also the owner of Spectrum Travel Social Story Videos, a production company that makes travel social story videos for kids with Autism, Anxiety, and other Special Needs.