Tips for Traveling With Cerebral Palsy
This article has been fact checked by a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
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A major issue faced by many people with cerebral palsy is mobility. This is a concern during daily activities and can be especially difficult while traveling. Although it can seem a bit challenging, there are a number of things you can do to help your child feel as comfortable as possible during trips.
Traveling by Land with Cerebral Palsy
Road trips are often family traditions. Other families may simply want to enjoy the scenery that traveling in a vehicle provides. Whatever the reason may be, there’s no reason why children with cerebral palsy can’t enjoy a successful road trip. It will just take a little extra planning to make sure things go smoothly.
Get Your Child Excited About the Trip
Prior to taking the trip, it is a good idea to talk with your child regarding the upcoming travel to help them adjust and to set expectations. Children with special needs often act out when their schedules change or when there is uncertainty. Consider creating a child-friendly story book to read aloud together before the big trip.
You can create your own book using a simple sketch pad and colorful crayons or map pencils. Detail the fun things your child will see along the trip and what your family will do during vacation. If you don’t want to manually create a story, consider creating an online social book with the same premise.
Take Shorter “Practice” Trips
If your child is already used to being in a vehicle for a few hours, he/she may adjust more willingly to a long road-trip. For children who aren’t used to being in a car for too long, try going on a shorter road trip for practice. For instance, you can take a trip to a neighboring city or perhaps to visit an old friend or relative who lives a few hundred miles away.
Another important detail to remember is that if your child uses a wheelchair or any other mobility aid, you’ll want to make sure the area you’re traveling to is handicap accessible. Getting outdoors is a special part of taking a road trip for many families. Be certain to research the area thoroughly for wheelchair-friendly outdoor activities. If you want to take advantage of hiking trails and other places with a rougher or uneven terrain, you can purchase or rent wheelchairs that are specifically made for this type of adventure.
Make Frequent Stops
Although you and your loved ones may be excited to get to your destination, making frequent stops can reduce frustration from being confined too long. This will also offer opportunities to use the restroom or to change out of soiled diapers or clothing. A good rule of thumb is to stop every few hours, but this can be a little sooner or a little later, depending on your child.
Pack a Cooler
Many children with cerebral palsy follow a special diet or have certain snacks they prefer. Food allergies are also common for children with cerebral palsy. Pack a cooler with your child’s snacks and foods to take with you. This helps to reduce time looking for stores with your child’s specific food choices. If your child runs out of snacks, look for specialized grocery stores online prior to the trip and call in advance to see if they have the types of food you will need.
Flying with Cerebral Palsy
Airplane trips with disabled children can be a bit easier than road trips. Airlines today are doing their best to accommodate people with special needs. However, to make things run as smoothly as possible, consider the following tips before taking off:
- Utilize the airline’s special needs department to get optimal seating for your child. Call a week or so before your flight to confirm the seating arrangements.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) states that special foods are allowed on board. If your child has certain necessary snacks, be sure to bring them along.
- Always arrive at the airport well ahead of time. This will help you prepare for any changes in flight plans or seating arrangements
- Prepare your child’s carry-on bag with things that will make them as comfortable as possible (special blanket, comfort toys, electronics with backup power sources, etc.)
Similar to taking a road trip, you should always prepare your child ahead of time about what it means to take a trip by plane. Although it usually isn’t as long as a road trip (depending on where you’re traveling to), children with disabilities, or any children for that matter, shouldn’t be caught off-guard or unprepared.
Consider creating a storybook or social story as outlined in the “traveling by land” section, but in this instance, create a colorful story about how exciting and fun airplane trips can be.
Planes and Wheelchairs
Most airports allow you to check in a wheelchair or other mobility devices at the baggage check-in without any extra fees. However, federal regulations require that both wet cell batteries and dry cell batteries be disconnected unless the mobility device is designed to prevent unintended activation.
Clearly Label Medications Beforehand
Many children with cerebral palsy rely on medications, and with stringent TSA rules, it can become a hassle to have medicine screened. To make things go more smoothly, always clearly label any over-the-counter medication. TSA recommends checking with your state laws regarding prescription labels.
Keep any medication accessories that can melt (ice packs and gel bags) completely frozen prior to check-in. If they are melted even halfway, you may have to wait longer while the accessories are screened.
Call TSA Cares
TSA offers people with disabilities a number of things to help them travel safer. TSA Cares is a phone helpline that offers additional assistance. It is recommended that you call the line at least 72 hours before your flight time for assistance with any questions or concerns you may have.
TSA also offers on-the-spot assistance for people with disabilities, but to ensure that you know how the process works, call TSA Cares beforehand.
- Research hotels and what disability services are offered. Most hotels offer wheelchair-accessible rooms and other special accommodations, but you’ll need to reserve this type of room in advance.
- If you’re interested in visiting a national park, sign up for an “Access Pass,” which provides a free lifetime pass to more than 2,000 federally-owned parks, to people who are disabled. Click here to find out more about how to obtain an Access Pass.
- Many amusement parks offer special services and free passes for children with disabilities. Be certain to check with the park’s Guest Services to find out more information.