Our fondest memories are often those created during family holidays. Here are our pass notes on how to go on holiday with disabled children.
Holidays or vacations are important. We all need a rest and the chance to let our hair down, to relax and be silly and to just enjoy a few days away from the ordinary routine. I’m not just talking about adults escaping the rat-race either, it’s important for children to get away from school and home and see and experience something different.
The number one priority regarding a holiday is, of course, to have fun. Whilst this is quite an easy goal to achieve, for parents or carers of disabled children it is also an easy notion to accidentally ruin. Children often have huge expectations and are delicate regarding disappointment and whilst they need to understand that life isn’t perfect, a holiday might not be the best time to learn that lesson.
It makes good sense to try to satisfy every member of the family by putting aside time to do the things that each of them wants to do. With that in mind, everyone should have at least a little input into what you’ll be doing on holiday, even if the decision regarding the destination remains yours. After all, a good part of what makes a holiday special is in the anticipation – looking forward to a break gets you through another dreary afternoon in the office and it’s also the thought that gets your child through their dreary maths lesson.
Children are likely to want to do different things to you and as part of helping them to grow up to be respectful of people with different viewpoints you’ll need to respect their ideas too, even if you need to manage their expectations. As mentioned earlier, disappointment can leave a bitter taste with everyone. Children don’t take disappointment well and there are few things more painful than watching your child lose their smile. With that in mind, you should, where possible take the time to gather materials that will inform your plans.
It’s time to mine the internet about attractions near to your holiday destination, keeping an eye on things like opening times, when it’s likely to be crowded and quiet and also of course if it has the correct sorts of access and facilities. This might take a few emails or phone calls but it pays you back with a stress free visit.
Dealing with the unexpected
There are lots of variables to consider when taking children on holiday. Their gender, age and interests are plenty to juggle with before you’ve even considered their disability but the advantage is that you know them better than anyone and will be able to spot something there’ll enjoy a mile off; a skill that might save the day if something unexpected happens (and you have to change your plans quickly).
There are sometimes difficulties where you have two or more children with mixed ages or abilities. There is bound to be an area of potential disagreement regarding what to visit. Again, you’ll know how to treat each child fairly, perhaps by visiting two places rather than one but if time isn’t on your side, you might consider visiting the attraction more suited to the older child since it’s more satisfying and exciting for the younger child to be bracketed with their older sibling than it is for the older sibling to have to do something that they feel is beneath them. Children can be terrible snobs.
It might well be at this point that your ability to spot a ‘plan b’ might come in handy. (This also applies if an attraction etc is shut due to unforeseen circumstances). You might have seen an appropriate alternative whilst looking over your options online or you may even just decide that a diversionary tactic is in order and decide that rather than annoying each other you should all just go for an ice cream. (If your activity is affected by the weather, you might choose to go for an early lunch or dinner.)
Time to relax
Unlike adults, children don’t like excessive time to relax or being unoccupied for any length of time. They need to be kept busy, even if it’s just with a simple game or activity, perhaps counting seagulls or writing postcards. Often children don’t want to do a specific activity and just want to be noticed and engaged by you. It’s a good idea to try to keep them involved in the ongoing decisions regarding where to go or where to eat or what their thoughts are on what they’ve been doing so far.
Younger children will often want to bring possessions with them. This serves two purposes. Firstly, they like to play and they will have favourite toys which they want to bring. Try to make sure that these are small enough for them to carry themselves (or you’ll get lumbered with them) and try to make sure that there are no fiddly or detachable bits that can get lost.
The second reason why children like to bring certain possessions on holiday with them is because they are going away from home and need an aspect of their ‘comfort zone’ with them. In very small children, this manifests in a truly favourite toy, probably a teddy bear or doll which goes everywhere with them (some children have a blanket etc). Teddy can help your child to relax and remain calm in unusual surrounds so make sure you value Teddy’s contribution to the holiday by keeping a very close eye on him. The last thing you need is for Teddy to go missing and so good advice is to puncture his ear and fit him with a keyring so that he can be attached to your child, their wheelchair or bag via a short piece of ribbon (being careful to avoid choking hazards). This way Teddy is always on standby if your child becomes unsettled for any reason. (You might also consider bringing other things that have strong attachments to home such as a pillow or just the pillowcase – it may be an idea to leave it unlaundered and carrying the scent of their room.)
Away from home
Holidays are a strange thing. That’s why we love them and remember them. They’re times when we do unusual things and have a lot of fun. Whilst this sounds great it can be unsettling for children that don’t deal with change very well. To this end expect to answer seemingly endless questions about where you’re going, why, with whom and for how long.
In a similar vein, if you’re planning a holiday requiring a longer journey you might well consider a ‘dry run’. If you’re going to get on a plane for five hours, start off with seeing how your kids deal with a train for two hours and go from there.
Naturally, you’ll need to pay attention to the needs of your child as a disabled traveller. Clearly you’ll be bringing along any medication and kit they need just in case they become unwell and your doctor’s contact details ready for if you require further advice but you’ll also need to make ongoing assessments. If you’re going to visit an attraction, you need to know that children aren’t going to be affected by any stimulus such as flashing lights or temperature or that if they have a ‘panic attack’ because they’re in an enclosed space or because they’re frightened by something else, that you can get them out quickly and without too much fuss. Again, some of this is probably going to be covered in your initial fact finding.
Finally, make sure you enjoy your holiday. It can sometimes be all too easy to become overwhelmed with all of your responsibilities. Keeping in mind how special your own childhood holidays were will help you to relax and enjoy your time away with your children.
Euan’s Guide is a website featuring hundreds of disabled access reviews of every conceivable type of service provider imaginable. They were kind enough to give Able five tips for great places to take disabled children.
Victoria And Albert Museum, London
“The V&A is an excellent place to visit if you’re a wheelchair or powerchair user, and a great place to socialise with friends. The food is great, the staff are great, you can get to all the exhibits, and in the summer the inner courtyard is a lovely place to hang out and chat. Strongly recommended.”
Cutty Sark, London
“You don’t imagine a boat of such years could be accessible. The staff can only be described as fantastic for the welcome, help and information provided during my visit – an example of how well accessibility can be integrated seamlessly into the visitor experience.”
Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh
“The Royal Yacht Britannia has made every effort to accommodate disabled people.
Access for mobility impaired visitors is excellent with ramps, lifts, and handrails.”
The Deep, Hull
“The Deep has three levels, these can all be accessed by lift or stairs. The route around The Deep is made up of gentle slopes…. Guide dogs and Hearing dogs are permitted and Braille copies of the guidebook are available at reception to borrow free of charge.”
Discovery Museum, Dundee
“The floor plan of the museum is considerate of disabled access; the entrance to the museum is one level and has bilateral rails on the ramp up to the first floor. There is a lift large enough for one wheelchair and a carer to fit in comfortably, which allows access to all five floors.”
See hundreds more reviews at: www.euansguide.com