Posts Tagged ‘ Traveling and kids with special needs ’

Better Plane Travel For Kids With Special Needs

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Soon after US Airways got a $1.2 million fine for failing to provide proper wheelchair assistance to fliers, news came out that the U.S. Department of Transportation will make flying more accessible.

Some 300 complaints were filed by US Airways customers from 2011 to 2012 about lack of wheelchair assistance at the company’s hub in Charlotte, NC and Philadelphia International, news stories note. Some customers missed connecting flights because of delays getting wheelchairs at the gate, others were left unattended for long periods of time.

The new Dept. of Transportation regulation that will particularly benefit parents whose kids are in wheelchairs is that airlines will now have more options for stowing wheelchairs, reports Disability Scoop. Manual, folding ones can be stored in a closet or even strapped to a row of seats.

I’ve heard horror stories of kids’ wheelchairs getting damaged in transit; hopefully, it will happen a lot less frequently. Going on flights with children who have special needs is never easy, especially if you have a child with sensory issues who is fearful of crowds as we do. There have been times when our family has been allowed special entry through the security system, and times when Max has had screaming crying fits as we waited on line.

There’s a great program called Wings for Autism that lets kids do practice runs at airports. They go in a security lane set aside just for them; board planes provided for the day by airlines; buckle up; and even get a tour of the cockpit. Although the planes never leave the gate, the doors are shut to simulate a real flight. The program takes place at Boston Logan airport twice a year, with one happening earlier this month and another next April. Wings for Autism  is set to expand across the country in upcoming years. Meanwhile, this September Blue Horizons for Autism launched at Kennedy International Airport in New York, a new flight rehearsal program for kids from JetBlue and Autism Speaks.

Meanwhile, parents can call the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA Cares Help Line toll-free line at 1-855-787-2227 before flights for questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at security checkpoints. JetBlue, for one, has a dedicated Disability Assistance Line: 1-855-ADA-LINE (855-232-5463).

“All air travelers deserve to be treated equally and with respect, and this includes persons  in wheelchairs and other passengers with disabilities,” U.S. Transportation Secretay Anthony Foxx said in a statement about the new regulations.

To that I add, anything that makes the lives of families traveling with kids who have disabilities easier gives me a real high.

Image of mother and child at airport via Shutterstock 

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Safety Measures to Take When Out and About with your Special Needs Kid

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Memorial Day Weekend came and went, kicking off the summer season. Over the next few months, families will take daily excursions to the beaches, parks, aquariums and zoos, week long vacations or quick weekend getaways. However traveling and venturing out with special needs kids can be stressful, especially when the destination is unfamiliar and crowded.

The summer Norrin was first diagnosed we didn’t go out much and when we did, we didn’t go far. But each summer since, we’ve gotten more adventurous. Over the holiday weekend, we went downtown to Times Square and walked around. We don’t want to feel confined to four walls and familiar places because we’re scared. We also take a few simple precautions before and after walking out the door.

Take a photo before you head out the door. Two years ago when we went to Disney World we took a photo of everyday Norrin before leaving the hotel. Since most phones have cameras, this is such a simple thing to do as a safety measure. During a moment of panic, recalling what your child is wearing may difficult. And its usually the first question asked. Having a photo will ensure your accuracy and officials will have the most current photo of your child.

Know the lay of the land. If you’re going someplace new, print out a map and familiarize yourself with your destination. Look for the bathrooms, guest services and possible exits. These days, amusement parks have apps. Create a game plan for the day and designate a meeting spot in case your group becomes separated.

Child Identification/Contact Information. Norrin knows his first and last name, our names, where he lives and his home number. (We’ve been working teaching him our cell phone numbers.) But he may not provide the information if asked. When we go out for day trips or vacations, we put on Norrin’s ID – nothing fancy, just a dog tag chain necklace with our information.  He’s used to it now, so he keeps it on. There are also MedicAlert Bracelets and Tattoos With A Purpose.

Communicate with your group.  My group usually consists of me, my husband Joseph and Norrin. Norrin isn’t the kind of kid that can walk ahead or trail behind us. His hand needs to be held at all times. (When we were walking around Times Square, if I wasn’t  holding Norrin’s hand, my hand was on his shoulder.) If I have to let go of Norrin’s hand for any reason, I always tell Joseph.  And I don’t let go, until Joseph takes Norrin’s hand. When out with Norrin, we always work as a team to keep him safe.

What safety measures do you take to keep your kids safe?

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Are You Prepared For A School Bus Strike?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

I will never forget the first day I put my son, Norrin, on a school bus. He was two years old, his book bag straps kept falling off his shoulders, he had no language and he was still wearing diapers. Norrin’s been on a school bus ever since (he’ll be seven in a few days). He’s never gone to a school within walking distance. And most of the special needs children I know are taken to school by bus. It’s a service so many parents rely on. And I never even thought about what I would do if that service abruptly stopped. Not until recently anyway.

New York City students and families are being impacted by a school bus strike – 152,000 students to be exact, with a significant amount being students with special needs.

Norrin is one of those students. And on Day Two of the strike, our family is already struggling.

I work full-time outside of the home as a Legal Administrative Assistant, my husband is a Court Officer – we don’t have the kind of jobs where we can work from home. Norrin’s school is twenty miles away – far from public transportation. We have a car but I don’t know how to drive. If I were to take Norrin to school on my own it could take up to two hours in commuting (by bus, train and a short cab ride) or a thirty minute cab ride (about $75 each way).

But getting Norrin to school isn’t really the problem.  It’s picking him up – that’s the issue. It interferes with work and after school therapies. I’ve spent this last week trying to weigh all my options in the event of a school bus strike. And we’re still trying to figure out the logistics and put together our contingency plan. But the reality is, there are no easy options. I’ve already used two vacation days to stay home – not sure how much longer we can last. The last strike was in 1979 and it lasted three months.

Can you imagine if your special needs child missed three months of school because of a bus strike?

I’m hoping it doesn’t last that long. Because Norrin cannot miss three months of school or services.

But this strike has been an eye opener. I realized that I don’t have the contact information for any of Norrin’s five classmates. And even though Norrin does well riding trains and buses – I’ve never taken him up to school by myself. I haven’t even made the  trip on my own. I love Norrin’s school, it was well worth the fight to get him there but I wish it were closer. I wish I had the ability to drop him off and to connect with other parents. Once things get back to normal, I’m going to reach out to the parents of Norrin’s classmates.

I’m home with Norrin and we’re ready to head out – maybe to the zoo or the museum. But I want to hear from you.

Are you impacted by the NYC School Bus Strike? What are you doing? For more strike information and reimbursement forms – please click HERE.

And if you’re not in NYC but you depend on a school bus to transport your child to and from school – do you have a Plan B if busing was no longer an option?


photo credit: Caitlinator via photopin cc

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More Sane Family Plane Trips: Tips From A Mom Flight Attendant

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Who knows better about keeping kids calm, entertained and tears-free during a plane trip than a flight attendant who’s also a mom?

Abigail Valencia is a JetBlue attendant based out of New York City; she has a toddler and a new baby—and lots of smarts on traveling with them! Her proven strategies for stress-free plane trips with the kids this holiday season:

1. Have everything ready to go the night before you leave. “This is my top travel tip!” she says. Who wants to kick off a trip with a mad scramble to find the plane tickets or reservation number? Answer: nobody!

2. Review airport and airline etiquette with the kids ahead of time. “When kids know what to expect, they are more willing to cooperate,” she says.

3. Bring light busy toys. “Leave the bulky toys at home,” urges Valencia. “Small doll play sets, magnetic play sets, tablets and art materials won’t take up too much space. JetBlue has 36 channels of TV at every seat, so Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network can entertain your little one in-flight.”

4. Check all your bags except a carry-on. ”Leaving your luggage behind can help you relax and free you up to keep a better watch over your kids,” says Valencia.

5. Don’t wrap the presents. “Often, the Transportation Security Administration will need to have you unwrap them,” she notes. “Better still, don’t travel with presents–ship them all to your destination ahead of time.”

6. Pack light and pack smart. “Plan outfits for your family for the length of your stay, and only one or two more for unexpected wardrobe changes,” she says. “Compress fluffy sweaters and jackets in space-saving compact travel bags from The Container Store or Flight 001.”

7.  Next year, consider traveling before official school vacation. Over the years, we’ve pulled the kids out of school for trips, and we’ve considered the stress saved worth it (besides, the day or two right before vacation aren’t typically heavy-learning days at school). As Valencia says, “Everyone travels as soon as school lets out for vacation. Beat them to it.”

Image of child with juice on airplane via Shutterstock

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Cruising Through Life With My Special-Needs Goggles On

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Last weekend I had lunch aboard a cruise ship, the Norwegian Gem, while it was docked in New York. It goes to the Bahamas and Florida, the Caribbean, the coast of Canada and New England, and Bermuda. Sadly, I didn’t actually get to go anywhere, though I had some nice fantasies.

The ship can accommodate 2394 passengers (plus crew). As I stared at it, though, I had just one thing in mind: Could it accommodate Max? Would the crew happily do so? Would this be a good trip for him? Would anything freak him out? Would he have fun?

I’m a mom of two kids. But when I’m making plans for family fun, my thoughts mostly center around my child with special needs. The reality is, Max has certain limitations (along with a whole lot of awesomeness). Of course, we don’t completely live our lives around Max, and I regularly carve out Mommy-and-me time with my daughter. But if I want us to have a good time as a family, I have to consider Max first.

So I walked around the ship with my special-needs goggles on (well, OK, sunglasses). Freestyle Dining? YES! There are no set eating times or assigned tables, perfect for Max because he gets freaked out by crowds. It would be heaven to eat at off-peak times or take advantage of the free room service.

Childcare? YES! I asked whether the Splash Academy, a program for kids 6 months to 12 years included with your cruise, could accommodate Max. Yes, I was told—plenty of kids with special needs come through their doors. While there wouldn’t be one-on-one care, I know from experience that I’m often able to get someone on staff to keep an eye on Max. We’d also get a beeper, just in case we needed to zoom back. Over the years, I’ve learned to carefully gauge responses to my requests about accommodating Max. If a place seems at all wary, I know it’s not going to work out. But the response here was enthusiastic.

Fun activities for all? YES! The ship has bowling alleys, Max’s current favorite activity. Also: SpongeBob! Norwegian has a total Nickelodeon experience; kids can have breakfast with Mr. Squarepants, party with Dora, or get slimed. There’s plenty of adult fun, too, including a casino, spa and shows. (I am a big believer in parent R&R).

Purple curtains in bedroom? YES! OK, OK,  not critical. But it’s Max’s favorite color, and it’s comforting to him when it’s there.  In general, the ship passed the Max test with flying colors.

As I left, I took off my special-needs goggles, and then I drove home. I’m sure I’ll be putting them on again, soon. That’s the way life is, and it’s perfectly OK.

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