Traveling with a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

There are many things to consider when traveling with kids, let alone traveling with a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder. We are in the heat of summer and many of our PAT families are taking a break, heading to the beach or visiting relatives far away. Here are some tips from our clinic to help you make the most of your vacation.

Plan Ahead

  • Dietary Needs: Search the area ahead of time for appropriate restaurants. If you have a child with dietary restrictions or food texture issues, it’s nice to take the guesswork out of meal time. By the time everyone gets hungry, you won’t be Googling to find a restaurant that works for your whole family.
  • Accommodations: Most hotels have amenities like blackout shades to regulate light, but it’s always worth reading reviews to find a quiet space for your sensory kid. Don’t chance showing up at a hotel in the middle of renovations or choosing a room in the middle of a nightlife district.  
  • Create a Plan: Kids like plans, but especially kids with sensory processing struggles. Take some time before your trip to create a plan and share it with your child. This could mean simply talking about the trip and what to expect, or drawing/typing out a fun list with pictures for your child to follow along.
  • Engage in physical activity: Before you hop on a plane for several hours, get some energy out! Consider scheduling your travel time during nap time/quiet time so that everyone will be relaxed.

Travel in Comfort

  • Comfortable clothes: On top of being squished in a car seat or on a plane, set your kids up for ultimate comfort by dressing them in soft clothes with minimal zips, snaps or hardware.
  • Activities: Pack a variety of toys that your child is sure to enjoy. Having multiple activities is the key! When something becomes old, be ready to pull out a new activity to keep your kiddo occupied. Resistive items (i.e. stress balls) can give proprioceptive input while traveling and feeling confined.
  • Snacks: Bring protein-packed snacks that will keep bellies full and happy. Gum and/or lollipops (if your child is old enough) can be helpful for sensory stimulation as well. Gum is a resistive chewy snack and can be calming, organizing and help with any carsickness. Water bottles with straws are good to pack too. They are also very calming and organizing for when kids are starting to get tired of being confined in the car or plane.
  • Headphones: When all else fails, noise cancelling headphones can create a controlled environment for your child to listen to their favorite music or show wherever they are.
  • Pre-board: Take advantage of pre-boarding, available on many airlines to families traveling with children. Talk to the gate agent before boarding if you have any concerns.

Have Fun

  • Take Breaks to Play: Travel can involve a lot of sitting to get to the fun parts! Make sure you take opportunities to play and run when they arise.
  • Avoid overload: Too much fun might not be a good thing. Keep a pulse on how your kiddo is feeling. Skip that last roller coaster if you think it might mean meltdown.
  • Don’t get discouraged: Like we said before, traveling with kids in general is a medal-worthy sport in itself. Give yourself grace and take a deep breath if things get tough. Sure, there will always be those grumps on your plane, but the majority of people are very understanding and accommodating, so try not to stress!


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