Special Needs Travel Safety

Steve Penhollow
June 21, 2017

Traveling safely with a child with severe special needs

Traveling with a child with special needs often brings special challenges to caregivers and parents. But, a little extra preparation can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip that's stress-free.

Dr. John Neff, founder of the Center for Children with Special Needs in Seattle, Washington suggests doing the following things to make travel go more smoothly:

Put Together a Care Notebook or a Care Organizer

Dr. Neff advises parents or guardians of children with special needs to put together Care Notebook or Care Organizer in advance of any trip.

This organizer or notebook should contain not only medical records, but also all relevant personal and therapeutic information that caregivers might require during travel.

This includes contact information for medical professionals who can treat your child along the way if necessary, places where prescriptions can be filled, and data about any organizations that might need to be called upon while away.

Neff says Care Notebooks or Care Organizers can and should contain all sorts of distinctive and even idiosyncratic information about the child, including treatment history, the succession and successfulness of various medicines, and pertinent anecdotes that only a parent or guardian who spends a lot of time with the child could know.

"It is a way for parents to create their own care plan," he says.

A Care Notebook or Care Organizer can be invaluable to any health professional or care provider who needs to be quickly brought up to speed on a child's situation.


Dr. Neff advises a caregiver who is accompanying a child with special needs on a trip to make sure that the child has "enough medicines to get you through." "Either have enough medicines with you or have a way to obtain the medicines quickly," he says. Talk to your child's physician about extra prescriptions for travel purposes.

Air and Train Travel

Contact your airline or train company in advance. "Let them know exactly what the child's needs are," Neff says. Neff says trains tend to be a wonderful way for children with special needs to travel. Airlines and train companies should be made aware of the dietary restrictions of children with special needs, and if the airline or train company cannot full address those restrictions, a parent or guardian will know to come prepared.

Medical Help

It is not enough to have contact information for relevant medical professionals and organizations in other cities; it is highly advisable for a parent or guardian to go ahead and contact those professional and organizations ahead of time just in case.

Fine out where the nearest children's hospital is to where you will be traveling - Neff says children's hospitals are often the best one-stop resource. 

Talk with your child's primary care physician about your travel plans. Doctors who are involved in your child' regular care can weigh in on the advisability of the travel. He or she is also a valuable resource for strategies for coping with the trip. In particular are the two following considerations:

Bring Manuals 

Dr. Neff advises that a caregiver accompanying a child with special needs on a trip never go anywhere without the instruction manuals and tool kits for any and all medical equipment and gear. 

If Traveling to a Foreign Country, Take Everything

Check with your physician to see if foreign travel is recommended for your child. If it is, the  parent or caregiver should bring absolutely everything the child might need with them; don't assume you can get any of the special things, such as medication, equipment, or gear in a foreign country.  Even though you may be traveling in a country where these items are accessible, you won't necessarily be able to get the things you need for your child's specific needs.  While all parents and caregivers have to anticipate emergency needs while traveling, bringing what you need with you can guarantee you won't run into trouble (or that problem won't become a bigger problem than necessary).

Unfortunately, Dr Neff says that many families with a child with special needs have to learn the hard way about how best to travel successfully.  Spending time preparing can really pay off-your child will have everything they need, and parents and caregivers can be confident medical help will be available to them if needed.

Steve Penhollow is a writer and editor specializing in trends, arts, and entertainment for families.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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