When Lisa Schwab opened the door to the condo she’d rented for her family’s vacation in Myrtle Beach, she knew it wouldn’t work. The bed was positioned in the wrong way, and her son, Patrick, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, wouldn’t be able to get through the door and into the living area beyond. “I had the idea that if I moved the bed sideways, he could get through the door,” she remembers. Schwab sat on the floor, put her feet against the closet wall, her back against the bed, and pushed. Instead of moving the bed, she put her foot through the wall and added repair costs to her vacation tab. Since then, when she books vacations, she talks to the hotel marketing department to figure out which room will really work for her family.
You never know what you’ll get when traveling with kids with disabilities. Whether it’s a hotel room floor plan that won’t work, or a museum that’s overstimulating enough to send your child into a tailspin during the off-season’s quietest day. Still, bringing disabled kids along on family vacations does them a world of good (regardless of the scene you think you’re causing).
Travel Opens Up Their World, and Yours
It’s critical for special needs kids to understand their world, says Gwen Botting, president of Michigan Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, and the experiences they get through travel (problem solving when the car breaks down, deciding where to eat for dinner, navigating unfamiliar territory) are the ones that teach them how to navigate life. Traveling also connects these kids to the world. Being engaged or connected, as Sarah Mulligan, executive director of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Early Childhood points out, “implies that the child is not just present, but getting meaning from and interacting with the world.” What better way to connect than by feeling the sand between your toes and hearing the roar of the ocean, or shaking hands with characters you’d only read about at a theme park?
Special Needs Column
This is the introductory article for TravelMuse’s new Special Needs column, which will run every couple of issues. Future articles will cover tips, different modes of transportation, destinations for accessible travel and types of vacations for families that have to consider more than the norm when planning their vacations.
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There’s something in this for you too. Seeing your child in different environments will clue you in on what your child’s strengths and weaknesses are, and may give you insight into interests you never knew existed. Finally, getting out is vital to connect kids with the community, and vice versa. “It’s very important for the community at large to see children with disabilities in all types of settings,” says Mulligan. “We need to make sure our kids aren’t sheltered away.”
So, before you embark on your next trip, take some advice from parents who have been there, done that, and lived to tell about it.
Get Out There! Traveling is Good for You
Nick Starita, executive director of the United Cerebral Palsy, New Jersey chapter, traveled with his son, Jimmy, who had muscular dystrophy from the time he was a toddler through age 25, when Jimmy passed away. The trips were good for father and son. They were something for Jimmy to look forward to, and something that his dad could give him. Traveling added valuable quality of life when Starita knew that they had a limited amount of time together.