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Holiday Travel With a Child With Complex Needs

Holiday Travel With a Child With Complex Needs

Travelling around the holidays is stressful for any family. But many families would delight to simply contend with the challenges of packing, entertaining busy little minds and making it to the airport on time. Families whose children have complex medical needs have very different worries about traveling. Will my child be safe? Will their medical equipment be accessible when they need it? Will they have enough medication? Who will be qualified to care for them if they get ill or need emergent care?

Each of our children have different needs. So, what are the things we can all do to plan well and make travel as safe and smooth as possible?

1. Talk to your child’s Provider(s)- Start with the primary care physician and decide what other providers should be included in the conversation. Hopefully this is a conversation that providers will be willing to have over the phone. Verify that travel is safe and collaborate with them on what is needed for your child.

2. Make a list of your family’s desires, concerns and challenges- In developmentally appropriate ways include your child in this discussion

3. Update your child’s emergency health information card with your child’s provider(s). Print copies and carry a digital copy on your phone.

4. Make an emergency care plan. For some kids this might mean having the name of a provider and/or facility local to where you are traveling. Perhaps your child’s regular provider will want to call ahead of time to discuss your child’s needs and medical history. Work with your child’s doctor so that you’ll know exactly what to do if an emergency arises. Do you need to identify a medical supply company or pharmacy prior to your visit? Confirm the availability of certain medications or feeding supplies?

5. Medical Equipment. Did you know that medical supply companies can ship medical equipment and supplies overnight? This may be more reliable than attempting to carry these items yourself. Talk with your child’s provider about how to manage equipment, medications and supplies. 

6. Plan for mental health and sensory needs. Some of our kids need a calendar or picture schedule to manage the stress of being out of their routine. Some need a sensory diet. Some need a plan to manage big emotions. Where are the quiet places in the home you are visiting? How can you / your child communicate that they need a break? Who is safe for them to ask for help from? What comfort items can travel with you?

7. Don’t neglect to ask “what meaningful experiences are important to me and my child on this trip?” That question reminds us to plan for the magic moments. As an example, my 7 year old is, not surprisingly, really looking forward to opening gifts this holiday season. I can imagine she does not want mommy opening gifts for her so I can plan to wrap her gifts loosely or put them in bags so that she can access them independently.


Written By: Jamie O’Conner, Outreach Coordinator 

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