Best Ways to Explore the World With Your Special Needs Child

Travel is a core component of life; we all have a natural tendency to explore the world throughout our lifespan. Expanding our horizons not only offers a relaxing getaway but broadens the mind through new situations and experiences. Not only are the young and free travelling, but families are also now making the decision to travel with children while making sacrifices or considerations for their education along the way.

Best Ways to Explore the World With Your Special Needs Child

The issue here is that travel involves transition and globetrotting families may lack an attachment to any particular location which young children on the autism spectrum desire. As the parent or guardian of a Special Educational Needs (SEN) child, you are no doubt aware of the bonds your child builds to various objects, locations, and people. Making the decision to move away from the familiar surroundings of home can be a tough journey, especially for longer-term departures overseas. High anxiety, meltdowns, and challenging behavior can become a regular occurrence without mitigating the chances prior to starting the journey.

As soon as you make the decision to make a move, begin preparing your child for the experience. It can be especially traumatic for those who have only ever known one ‘home’ in their short life, unlike most adults who will have made various transitions over the years. As the day approaches introduce interactive countdowns, taking visual and audio cues to engage the mind in addition to prompting the reminder of change approaching. Maintain a handle on your own worries and stress also, displaying any signs of concern will only cause further anxiety.

Mid-trip distractions

Some airlines offer assistance for SEN children, but only if they are given prior notice to your child’s requirements in order to make necessary arrangements. This could be anything from ensuring fast-track passage through check-in lines, seats away from engine noise, or additional leg room to avoid the feeling of claustrophobia causing additional anxiety. Further onus should be placed upon your own planning, bringing along familiar and much-loved objects will help avoid the feeling of being totally lost in a new land.

Creating checklists with your child is a great, fun, and interactive method of planning when preparing to leave. Having a handy list of favorite items makes it simple to maintain a ‘grab n go’ guide with all the items necessary to keep the calm. Whether it’s a simple teddy bear, a certain jangle, or even an everyday item your child has built an attachment to, keeping it close by at all time can be a life-saver in moments of panic on-board or waiting room bound.

Another method of maintaining the peace mid-flight is to encourage discussions with provoking lines of questioning. Not provocation in the traditional sense, but in a way that encourages your child to speak his/her mind about what is bothering him/her rather than attempting to discipline in some other way. A number of sayings are often used as a device to achieve this, whether it’s via delivering short statements in an effort to get him/her to react or through direct questions. However you approach it, remember the age of the child and what you already know about him/her. For example, perhaps if he/she is non-verbal, providing the child with an outlet to release stress could work wonders. Many airlines now have, with prior notice, a range of toys and games for children to provide distractions while in the air.

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Long-term travel: Education necessities

For first-time travelers or families planning long-term moves, there are further complications caused by the unexpected nature of the situation at hand. Education is a core tenant of your child’s life and based on where he/she falls on the spectrum, he/she may require more attention in class than others, perhaps via specialized teaching. If planning to move overseas for a prolonged period, be sure to review all options available to you, some destinations will have a much better offering compared to others. Stereotypically, countries in the west are generally better prepared in terms of services on offer; the UK and Western Europe are safe options when it comes to specialized care within education.

If your destination lies further east take care when it comes to finding the right support network suited to your family. Russia, for example, is lacking when it comes to inclusiveness, while there are a number of English-language international schools they are relatively small and don’t currently have the trained staff required to support SEN students adequately.

If you find yourself in dire straits, an established educational consultancy can provide expert advice on the options available, deal with paperwork, assist with any entrance exam requirements, and even offer private tutoring if more appropriate.

Wherever you choose to lay anchor, there will always be extra considerations to take into account. Any child will find change difficult regardless of additional factors. While some children will have their own unique requirements, alleviating the surprise of parting from familiar surroundings by using countdowns, showing off your new home, and repeatedly discussing the situation with and around the child can soften the impact.

If you’re reasonably close to where you have decided to visit or move to it may be worthwhile taking a short preliminary trip for a few days just so the whole family can immerse themselves into the new environment while also discovering any possible road bumps in the journey. Any unpleasant findings should be transformed into chunks of information your child can absorb, the more aspects of the experience he/she is already aware of before setting off, the easier the situation will be.

Choosing to take children along with any career-mandated move is something which requires serious consideration before picking a side. On the one hand, being away from loved ones for a prolonged period of time can be rough, particularly in an unknown land where people speak a language you don’t understand. On the other hand, ensuring the happiness and comfort of your child should always remain priority number one. Once serious deliberation has been taken, appropriate plans are in place, and you’re confident that your child understands what is happening, you can finally depart for the next stage of your life away whether it’s in a tropical paradise, historic European city, or the bustling streets of Asia.

Stephen Spriggs is the Managing Director of William Clarence Education.


This is article was featured in Issue 78 – Back to School Success


    Stephen Spriggs

    Stephen Spriggs is the managing director of William Clarence Education, the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, William Clarence offers unbiased advice to students and parents from around the world; at every stage of their academic journey. From Independent School Application and Placement, full UCAS and University application consultancy, Oxbridge Applications US College Admission and even Homeschooling program, William Clarence Education draws on a deep relationship driven network with schools, Universities and senior education figures within the industry. By putting the student and family at the center of the process, William Clarence ensures their clients reach their maximum potential and gain access to the very best of UK education. For more info visit