Welcome to the fourth and final article in our travel series, where we cover a variety of topics on travel and access that help prepare you for traveling with children with special needs.

You can read more on this topic in the following articles in the series:

Bookmark this page so you can follow the series and come back to it for easy reference when you need a refresher.

Traveling is an opportunity to create memories that will be cherished for years to come. Whether you’re visiting a small town an hour from your house or flying to a big city in another country, trips to new places invite us to step outside of our comfort zone and explore the world around us.

However, travel can also be stressful! The planning required for a successful trip can challenge even the most organized person. And sometimes travel can be hectic, especially in our age of high-security checkpoints and strict public health measures.

When traveling with a child with special needs, typical travel stressors can be heightened. While the general public and travel personnel are increasingly tuned in to diverse accommodations for travelers with physical needs, individuals with less visible communication challenges may not receive the same kind of respect and support—simply because their difficulties can go unrecognized.

For example, travel websites and signage on location in airports, train stations, and public buildings can tell readers where to find ramps and accessible entrances. But a person who requires augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) support may be met with confusion due to a general lack of understanding of their needs.

Whether you’re going on a family vacation or a school field trip, planning for communication and conversation access will make the travel more enjoyable for everyone.

Understanding AAC Devices

Does your child use an AAC device to help initiate and participate in conversation? Children with impaired language development use AAC devices to express their wants, needs, questions, knowledge, and interests. Some children who benefit from AAC devices include those with autism, aphasia, cerebral palsy, stroke, Down syndrome, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). AAC devices are an important aid to ensure inclusivity.

These devices come in many forms. Some children use applications on a tablet and/or laptop. These are considered “non-dedicated devices” because they may also be used for other purposes. Other children require the use of “dedicated devices,” which are purpose-built to provide communication support. They are typically higher-end technology and specialty ordered by insurance.

Planning a Trip with Communication Challenges

Whatever your child uses for communication support, be sure to pack a durable case for the device to keep it safe from damage. And remember to pack an extra power cord for longer trips.

Flying to Your Destination?

Flying
Be prepared to turn on the device during airport screenings. Although communication devices are assistive pieces of equipment, they are not exempt from safety checks and scans. Consider keeping a text or symbol-supported explanation of the device available for security personnel who may be unfamiliar with communication devices. If you are taking a long flight, be mindful of the battery life.

Some families bring symbol-supported communication boards to supplement a speech-generating device. For some kids, pointing to symbols on a communication board or showing a symbol-based card is sufficient for navigating their basic needs, such as restroom, food, drink, help, or nap.

Traveling to a Wet or Sandy Destination?

Wet or sandy destination
Is the display on the communication device functional in direct sunlight? Many displays are, but a good backup plan is to have a printed and laminated/waterproof communication system ready. Take time to share the communication board in advance with everyone traveling in your group. This way, your child can successfully interact and communicate with all the family and friends. It is also wise to bring extra copies in case employees or other individuals at your destination site need help communicating with your child.

Headed to a Location with a Language Difference?

language difference
Even if you are familiar with the language, it’s a good idea to bring along a list of translated and symbol-supported phrases—and share copies with everyone in your group. Consider including requests or needs you can anticipate. For example, if a traveler needs frequent rest or a quiet location, you might carry translated and symbol-supported phrases such as: “I need a quiet place to sit,” or “We need help locating a quiet area.”

Using Symbol Supports for Communication Across Settings

Try creating symbol-supported communication boards for various travel situations including an airport, taxi, restaurant, hotel, pharmacy, and hospital, just in case. It is best practice to role-play these scenarios in advance. Have fun with the practice! Let a sibling be the waitress at a restaurant and a parent be the taxi driver. Each family member can take turns performing different roles to help familiarize the scenarios you’re likely to encounter while traveling.

SymbolStix SQUARES Set 1 and Set 2 boxes with cards
An ideal travel solution for individuals with communication challenges is n2y’s SymbolStix SQUARES—portable, durable symbol-based picture cards in a box, with recognizable visual supports and high-frequency words. Use them to enable communication with others or to simplify planning, organization, and setting expectations.

How are you feeling? communication board
Communication challenges add a layer of complexity but making a communication plan before departure can alleviate anxiety and prevent stressful situations. In addition to traveling with SymbolStix SQUARES, it might be timesaving to print and use the eXtras resources and activities available to n2y subscribers. Encourage your child to get involved using symbol-supported materials as well! Ask your child’s teacher about accessing the symbol library and Board Wizard within SymbolStix PRIME to create personalized boards to meet your specific travel needs—or consider your own subscription!

We hope our travel series has helped you plan for a vacation with your family. Be sure to bring home the best souvenir with you … memories to last a lifetime!
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About the Author
n2y’s blog team works closely with our special educators, in-house experts, and program developers to share the latest topics and timely thought leadership from the field. It’s our goal to help keep you informed and ready to serve your students!