Travelling tips for kids with disabilities

With prior planning, travelling as a family with kids who have disabilities can be incredibly fun and rewarding. It may be easy to be discouraged by the thought of navigating airports and meeting your child’s medical and behavioural needs while on the go, but it’s possible, writes disability expert Lisa Simmons on the Family Travel Forum.

“Most parents will tell you that successful family travelling takes planning,” writes Simmons, “Travelling with a special needs child takes even more preparation, but is sure to create wonderful family memories for everyone.”

Here’s some tips from multiple experts on how to ensure your next family adventure is fun, fulfilling and low stress.

Make sure your child’s doctor gives the green light for travel and that you’re aware of any necessary vaccines or other precautions for going abroad. If you get the go ahead, work with your child’s pediatrician to compile a document that lists your child’s medical history, physician’s phone number, current medications and prescription copies, and phone numbers of any necessary medical supply company. You may want all of this information in one place in case of an emergency.

If your child suffers from anxiety, check with your doctor about any helpful supplements. Ask about the likelihood of your child dealing with motion sickness, or ear issues due to elevation changes and what medications may help.

When you book your ticket, be sure to let the airline know if you have any special needs. Remind the airline of these requests at the ticket counter and check in at the gate early to board first. Check out the Canadian Transportation Agency guide for travellers with disabilities, which includes subjects such as mobility aids, boarding, ground transit and moving around the terminal. The guide also includes a step-by-step reservation checklist for people with disabilities. The CTA also details airline accessibility requirements in Canada. When possible, fly direct or try to choose a flight that works best for your child’s schedule.
Check as many bags as possible, you don’t want to be burdened with bags walking to and from your gate. Be sure to pack any needed toileting items, a spare change of clothes, your child’s medication with their prescriptions, and the emergency health document you prepared with your doctor in your carry-on bag. Before you go, make sure all devices are charged and any favorite games, songs or shows are downloaded to keep your child engaged. Snacks and water are a great idea to prevent meltdowns! On the day of the flight, be sure to dress your child in comfortable, easy to remove layers.
Many neurodivergent children can be overwhelmed by new stimulation, activity and schedule changes, all of which are part of travelling. Prepare your child for the unexpected and get them excited about flying with social stories about common travel tasks such as getting through airline security and boarding the plane. Autism Little Learners is a good source for social stories on a range of travel topics including wearing a mask on the plane and how to calm one’s body.
Unfortunately, mobility devices are frequently damaged or lost by airlines. If your child requires a mobility device, you’ll need to take precautions. If you're checking a wheelchair, consider removing any parts of the wheelchair that could be damaged — joystick, headrest, knee supports, etc. Consider supplying bubble wrap to protect your chair. You can also store removable parts in a bag and ask the flight attendant to store the tote in the closet on the plane. For other tips on protecting mobility devices while flying check out Have a Wheelchair will Travel.

Plan for the unexpected with travel insurance. If you or your child gets sick before or during your trip, travel insurance may reimburse non-refundable expenses, allowing you to postpone your trip for another day. You should also know that your Canadian government health insurance plan may not fully cover you when travelling abroad, which is why travel insurance with emergency medical coverage is essential.

Allianz Global Assistance offers benefits such as emergency medical coverage, and reimbursement of certain nonrefundable expenses if your trip is cancelled or delayed.

As a world leader in travel protection, we help Canadians and visitors to Canada answer the call of adventure with confidence every year. Let us be there for you too.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Travel insurance is underwritten by CUMIS General Insurance Company, a member of The Co-operators Group of Companies, administered by Allianz Global Assistance, which is a registered business name of AZGA Service Canada Inc.

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