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Traveling with Special Needs in Mind: Be Prepared

While he doesn’t have the ability yet to say “I have to go potty,” my husband and I are very fluent in our son’s grunts and the lovely (not) aroma that soon follows. And yes these potty woes occur on a stretch of highway where the next rest stop is 45 miles away and we begin the debate of which gas station or fast food restaurant has sufficient lighting and looks ‘safest’. Oh my!

Traveling with three children who are three, five, and seven, presents its own dilemma; because, let’s face it, kids can’t fully articulate when “I need to go,” means: stop this car NOW, or we need to stop soon. When you add to the equation our five year old son–born with Down syndrome and Autism–it gets pretty tricky navigating how to change his soiled diapers. Why did we feed him oatmeal this morning, I wonder, when we finally spot a popular fast food chain that looks fitting. We are armed with changing pads, a large towel to lay him on, diapers, and antibacterial wipes for sanitizing the changing table.

I run inside and do a quick inspection of the facilities. What I find inside flips my stomach: it’s apparent no one has cleaned this bathroom in forever. It’s filthy. There’s just no way I can stand being in there. So with no other option (my husband felt the men’s room would be worse), we park discreetly and together task ourselves to change him in the back of the SUV.

We’re a team and we’re fast, efficient. It’s almost like operating room prep and in less than a minute we have him thoroughly wiped, changed, and ready to go back into his car seat. But we’ve gotten ourselves some attention. Frankly, I’m both irritated and grateful. A sweet lady has this perplexed look on her face trying to figure out if we’re just crazy people who’ve nabbed a kid or something worse. I quickly tell her what we’re doing and she spies the dirty diaper and her look of what I perceive to be judgment turns to pity–which I despise much more than judgement. Yet, I’m grateful to her for paying attention; someone needs to keep an eye out for seedy people who nab kids.

Back in the car, my husband and I are praying for speedy olfactory fatigue so we can be rid of the stench. Yet, I forget the ordeal quickly as I see our son’s big happy grin; it reminds me why he’s so incredible. Stinky restroom, stinky car, stinky diaper, but the kid is so stinking cute.

After enduring my husband’s eye roll when I lather his hands and mine with some perfume-smelling hand sanitizer, were off through the woods and over the river to Grandma’s house. Two hours to go and not even five minutes later, one of our daughter’s yells out, “I have to go potty.” Here we go again!

Traveling with children as well as children with special needs can be hazardous to a parent’s nerve. Here a few tips to keep your nerves from fraying:

1. When traveling by car, it’s essential you highlight the rest stops and/or restaurants where you can safely make a pit stop. We have a ‘safe place’ on our travel route spaced out every 50-70 miles to minimize being caught off guard.

2. Stock up with change of clothes for accidents for both children and parents. Any parent that has changed their son’s diaper will tell you great aim can ruin a blouse.

3. Have a checklist of additional items you must have before you hit the road, such as changing pads, diapers/pull ups, wipes, antibacterial wipes, etc.

4. When flying, contact the airlines to make arrangements and it will minimize the time at the gate.

5. For children with autism and concerns regarding sensory overload, bring along items (toys, music, etc.) that help keep your child calm. Our son will smack himself on the head when he’s been strapped into a car seat and bored, so we have to maintain some activities to keep that behavior to a minimum.

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