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Five Tips For Holiday-ing With A Special Needs Child

Emily Sutton by Emily Sutton Additional Needs

Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton

I was launched into the world of special needs on New Year's Eve 2012, on the birth of my son, Jenson. He is fabulous, sprightly and loving, and ha...

Every day in our lives as parents to special needs children we encounter things that challenge us.  We just get on with it.

Going on holiday is no different; we are just paying for the privilege of doing it in a different setting.

So, it is imperative to get everything just right, so that the whole family enjoys themselves.

We all work so hard in day-to-day life that we deserve to redeem some quality time to put our worries to one side and let our metaphorical hair down.

We anticipate upcoming holidays with so much excitement because they are often the one and only time in the year that the family can be together properly.

There is so much at stake for that one or two weeks!

Even when we have downtime in our family (which is hardly ever!), it’s not genuine downtime, because I always find something that needs doing, a form that needs filling in, a call that needs to be made, a bunch of clothes that needs to be ironed.

I can no longer allow myself to simply sit back and relax because of the guilt I feel for not doing the jobs that need doing.

Holidays take away the option of doing those jobs, and place you in a position where you are forced to separate yourself from the daily struggles, giving you the opportunity to relax and let yourself forget about those horrible tasks back at home.

The problem is, if a holiday is not chosen wisely and planned properly, you can end up more stressed at the end of it, and need a holiday to recover!

So, here are five basic tips that might help families such as mine to make the most of their valuable time off:

 1. The Stay-cation

A holiday doesn’t have to involve an expensive visit to an overpriced commercial resort or a foreign country.

There are many good reasons to simply stay at home.

Turn off your work emails, dig out a few dust-covered DVDs or board games, search out some local attractions in your area that you simply haven’t had time to visit before, and take some day trips further afield.

Spend quality time as a whole family, where the stresses of everyday life are pushed into the background for a few days.

Children respond to, and savour, the joys of having their parents’ undivided attention and if those parents are relaxed and happy, this can harvest wonderful feelings of togetherness, regardless of whether you are home or away.

Save on the overpriced cost of flights and family accommodation, and use the money to treat your family to some indulgences at home.

 2. The Seaside

Time on the beach can be wonderful therapy for our children.

The freedom of being by the sea, playing in the sand and splashing in the waves can work wonders.

There are so many aids available to help physically disabled children enjoy these things, such as the Upsee for paddling in the sea, or the GoTo Seat for sitting in the sand and making sandcastles.

I have personally found the seaside to be a liberating experience for our whole family; we can be outdoors in the public arena but we have our own private space where we don’t have to worry too much about upsetting others with the clamour that our son makes, or the behavioural differences he may display compared to the next family.

There’s something about the combination of the sea air, the warm sand and the freedom of the ocean that makes for a recipe for a happy family day out.

 3. Happy Parents = Happy Kids

Make sure that the holiday is about fulfilling the child's needs as much as your own.

Disgruntled parents who are getting under each other’s feet, or who are cheesed off with the low grade accommodation, are a dead-cert for impacting negatively on the whole family experience.

For example, if you have a toddler then it’s unlikely you’ll be going out for romantic dinners in the evenings, so ensure you book accommodation with a decent sized kitchen and dining area, perhaps a sunny terrace, satellite TV, or all of the above!

Why not even indulge in a setting with a whirlpool bath or hot tub, which the whole family can enjoy?!

 4. Do Your Research

More and more attractions these days give concessions for admitting a disabled child so look out for destinations that offer these, to keep the costs down.

Research the attractions for exactly how accessible they are, for instance does a boat trip allow for a wheelchair, and can parents accompany children on the smaller rides?

Use resources like Trip Advisor to see what others have said before you.

Call them in advance and you will be surprised as to how accommodating some attractions can be.

Use social media sites to request some suggestions and advice, there is bound to be someone who lives nearby the place of interest that can give you some invaluable pointers.

 5. Relax!

Use the opportunity of being away from home and everyday life to put your feet up and let your guard down.

Try to be more relaxed about doing things that you might not choose to do at home.

For example, if you avoid soft play because of the difficulties of carting your child to the top of the slide or the awkwardness you feel about the looks and glances from other parents, a holiday is a good time to expose yourself to these things.

You might surprise yourself with how much better and easier things are when you are relaxed.

Plus, everyone around you is a stranger therefore you will care less.

Maybe use the holidaying experience to experiment with changes that you had been toying with but hadn’t got around to, for example dropping a child’s nap, or feeding in public.


Whatever your choice of holiday, enjoy some wonderful and well-deserved time with your family…. You deserve it!

Happy Holidays!


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