When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15 NRS)
Travel is a holiday tradition dating back to the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph traveled a moderate distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The Magi went on a longer journey. Even the shepherds had a quick trip from the fields to town. Travel is exciting, but it is also daunting with a child who has fragile health, does not handle changes in routine well, or has physical or behavioral challenges that leave extended family and friends feeling ill-equipped to help. Here are a few ideas to make holiday travel run more smoothly.
While in the Air or on the Road:
- There are fifteen airports that offer a “dress rehearsal” for travelers with autism. This provides an opportunity to know what to expect ahead of time. More info here.
- TSA offers special accommodations for children with medical conditions. Learn more here and download a disability notification card here.
- To help shorten wait time at screening, consider enrolling in a TSA pre-check screening program for future travel. Turn-around time is a few weeks after application so there is not adequate time to enroll before Christmas.
- Prepare for the noise of planes and traffic. Headphones, earbuds or earplugs all help reduce sound.
- Bring plenty of favorite snacks, especially important for picky eaters. Also, providing sugar-free candy to suck on, or anything to encourage chewing and swallowing can help avoid uncomfortable eardrums at take-off or landing.
- Bring lots of activities to fill the time. Consider getting a toy or activity that is new to your child as a surprise for travel day. Keeping them busy and engaged with something different from the usual may help break up lengthy travel.
- Bring spare battery packs to recharge electronic devices.
- If traveling by car, plan on frequent stops and travel at the time of day that best suits your child’s energy level.
- Notice good behavior and offer frequent praise.
The nice thing about planes and cars is that they go two directions. It is equally possible to receive guests rather than being a guest. This removes the stress of holiday travel. Sharing a home, whether receiving guests or being a guest yourself, always comes with new routines. Here are a few thoughts for keeping things running smoothly once everyone is under the same roof:
- Share photos with your child ahead of time so that the faces of extended family are familiar when they arrive.
- Cousins may have grown and changed since they last saw each other. Help them connect via phone or text messaging to help break the ice ahead of time.
- Try to keep the most important part of familiar routines in place: favorite breakfast food, consistent bedtime, favorite games, movies or other activities.
- Educate friends and family about your child’s unique needs (fragile health, food allergies, mobility or communication challenges, and behavioral triggers). This invites dialogue and helps ease concerns.
- Try to fit in some one on one time with your child to help them feel less over-whelmed with all the new faces and a fuller house.
Wishing you safe holiday travels and a Merry Christmas!
Rev. Lorna Bradley, D.Min
Hope and Healing Center & Institute Fellow