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Legal and Practical Travel Strategies for Parents of Children With Special Needs

Ali Katz


Traveling during the summer can be an exciting adventure for the whole family, especially when you’re prepared to meet the unique needs of your child with special needs. As a parent, your primary concern is ensuring your child’s safety and comfort, whether you're hitting the beach, exploring a new city, or visiting relatives. By understanding and preparing for the legal and practical considerations of summer travel, you can make your trip enjoyable and stress-free. So, to make sure you’re all covered let’s review four essential strategies for navigating summer travel with your child with special needs. 


Strategy 1: Pack Important Documents & Prepare Your Child

Before you set out on your summer adventure, it’s crucial to gather and organize all necessary documentation. Your travel folder should include medical records, a recent doctor’s note outlining your child's condition and any accommodations they might need, as well as emergency contact information. Additionally, if your child requires medication, ensure you have a sufficient supply for the duration of the trip, along with prescriptions and a letter from the healthcare provider.

In addition, be prepared for any legal issues that could arise. For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates reasonable accommodations in public spaces, which can include priority boarding during flights and accessibility accommodations at hotels. Familiarize yourself with these rights and consider carrying a summary of relevant laws to advocate effectively for your child should the need arise (yes, be THAT person). If you aren’t sure which laws may apply, or where to find legal information to bring with you, contact me and I’ll get you squared away. 

Preparing your child for the travel experience is just as important. Use social stories or visual schedules to help them understand what to expect each day of the trip. This preparation can help reduce anxiety and make unfamiliar environments and routines more manageable.


Strategy 2: Plan Ahead for Air and Ground Transportation 

When booking flights, directly inform airlines of your child’s special needs. Many airlines offer pre-boarding for families like yours, which can alleviate the stress of boarding and settling in. Don’t hesitate to ask about the best seats for accessibility and comfort, and confirm any in-flight accommodations well ahead of your departure date.

For ground transportation, consider renting vehicles that are specifically equipped to handle mobility aids if necessary. When using public transportation, research ahead to find out which services offer the best accessibility features. Many major cities have buses and trains equipped to accommodate travelers with special needs, ensuring your mobility around your destination is as smooth as possible.

During travel, keep routines as normal as possible to provide a sense of familiarity. Schedule breaks and allow for downtime, just as you would at home. This not only helps your child adjust to the travel pace but also gives you opportunities to regroup and address any needs that may arise unexpectedly.


Strategy 3: Choose the Right Accommodations and Activities

Selecting the right accommodations is critical in making your travel experience a success. When booking hotels, ask detailed questions about their accessibility features. Do they have rooms with roll-in showers? Are there elevators to common areas like the pool or restaurant? Making sure these details are sorted out before arrival can prevent potential stressors and complications.

When planning activities, look for those that are likely to be enjoyable and feasible for your child. Many amusement parks, museums, and outdoor sites offer special accessibility programs and quieter times for visitors with special needs, allowing your family to enjoy the experience with fewer crowds and more support.

And always have a backup plan. Flexibility is key when traveling with children, especially for children who have special needs. Weather, unexpected closures, or simply a change in your child’s mood or health may require you to alter your plans. Having options ensures that your vacation remains enjoyable, no matter what comes your way.


Strategy 4: Get Your Estate Plan in Place or Updated

Death isn’t something we like to think about, but none of us ever knows when it will happen. Chances are your vacation will be fun and exciting, and go off without a hitch (especially if you’ve implemented the strategies above!). But having a comprehensive estate plan in place is crucial for parents of children with special needs and there’s no time like now to get it done. Without proper planning, any assets or government benefits left for the child could be at risk or even cause them to become ineligible for much-needed services and support. So if you don’t have a plan in place, or haven’t updated it in a while, it’s time!

In fact, my mission is to support you to get your plan in place or updated, and I have a passion for working with you, as a parent of children with special needs. When we work together, I’ll advise you on the best way to plan for what happens if you are no longer here. I will educate you about the advantages of a special needs trust, which can ensure that your child's inheritance is preserved and managed appropriately while still allowing them to qualify for government aid programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Moreover, I’ll help you make sure you nominate the right legal guardian so the person you trust most will care for your child if you become incapacitated or pass away. I truly believe that planning is an act of love and care for the most important people in your life. 


Traveling with your child with special needs this summer can be a wonderful experience with a bit of extra planning and preparation. By ensuring you have all the necessary documentation, prepare for the dynamics of air and ground travel, and choose the right accommodations and activities, you can create a memorable and enjoyable summer adventure for your family. And having your estate plan in place ensures happy memories and the continuation of your care, no matter what happens. 


Let Us Be Your Trusted Advisor When Planning for a Child with Special Needs

As a Personal Family Lawyer Firm, we recognize that planning for a child with special needs can be an emotional and complex process, but you don't have to navigate it alone. As a trusted advisor, we'll help you develop a comprehensive plan that provides the physical, financial, and emotional support your child needs, not just now but for years to come. Together, we’ll secure a brighter future for your entire family.