Holidaying with a Special Needs Child

To tell the truth I was afraid of taking a holiday with my special needs child even as much as I love her.

All the planning and preparation, it all seemed too hard. On our first family holiday we needed to find accommodation that included a kitchen, wheelchair access, a wheelchair accessible bathroom, a freezer for our daughter’s special food … the list went on. We wanted to have a holiday so badly and to share special family moments like playing on the beach and exploring new places. The task of finding somewhere to stay was overwhelming and felt impossible. But as I learned, it wasn’t so impossible.

List your needs and wants
Be prepared to compromise. Wheel chair access was our number one need, but so was a separate parent space so in the evening we could have some down time and actually have a break. Holidays can sometimes feel like it’s all about the children but it’s not.

Check accommodation online
Telephone and ask specific questions relating to your requirements. I wanted to know whether there were steps in the rooms and if we could visit the restaurant for breakfast or coffee. Our first family holiday was in Coffs Harbour and it had very limited access to the restaurant. We were told it was accessible but wasn’t entirely true. After that trip, we found places to stay that were very supportive and had wheelchair friendly accommodation all because we asked the right questions.

Is the accommodation located near the shops, beaches or rivers?
We wanted to go for daily trips to the beach and wanted to be able to walk. It is easier than packing everything into the car. We had access to a beach wheel chair that was available for hire for free. Fresh air and sun are a wonderful tonic.

Talk to the owner/manager of the chosen accommodation
We learned talking to someone in management and explaining our situation allowed for the opportunity to really know what the accommodation was like. Parking was an important consideration for us. We didn’t want to have to walk too far with equipment and supplies. Most places want to help and given the chance will support you. Sometimes even asking for a small discount can lead to a free breakfast or activity that supports the whole family. People just want to be asked to help and it makes them feel like they are supporting their community.

Are there any playgrounds onsite or walking tracks?
The joy of walking to the playground for a short time to play with our daughter was a great incentive. She loves exploring and being taken out for a walk so accessible tracks and space to explore were a must.

Contact the tourist information center
This is a great way to learn about what activities are available and the costs involved. I telephoned the tourist information center in Coffs Harbour and spoke to a helpful staff member who mailed me brochures and information to assist in our holiday. They also can assist with types of accommodation that can suit varying family needs.

Make a list of essential items you want to take on your holiday.
Have you packed spare batteries for equipment? My daughter communicates with an iPad so we had to ensure we had the charger. Starting a plan early allows for less stress. I made daily activity bags for my daughter with a theme relating to our holiday. Each day my daughter would be excited about the new theme with craft activities, books and toys. At the end of the day we would pack it away. This gave us some time to read or sit quietly while our daughter explored the daily activity pack.

Lastly, be thankful – and enjoy!
Gratitude heals the soul and calms the mind. Be thankful for an opportunity to take a break, embrace every chance to stop and appreciate the good things. We turned our holiday into a time of great blessing of family time and a chance to relax. It wasn’t just about the children it was about being away from the everyday and trying new things and being together.

Avatar of Becky Holland

When Becky Holland isn't writing, she's chasing her rambunctious two-year-old, sweet pea six-year-old, and newest "baby" Emerson, a mischievous cocker spaniel puppy. She loves early morning jogging and boxing classes, her best friend (who happens to be her husband), reading as many books as she possibly can, and of course - cake. Despite her early mornings, she often finds herself writing peacefully into the wee hours of the night. You can find her writing on Huffington Post, Mamamia, and Mamalode.

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