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Lost and found: protecting your special needs child during travel
By Christine Staple-Ebanks

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As a parent of four children, one of whom has cerebral palsy, I quickly realized the immense value of becoming actively involved in support groups and connecting with other parents who share similar experiences. Parenting a child with special needs presents unique challenges, and many of these challenges are not fully understood until we encounter them firsthand. Some of these experiences can be particularly distressing, especially when they involve my nonverbal child with cerebral palsy venturing out into the world.

Engaging with these support groups has pushed me to think proactively about potential scenarios and how to plan for them. While I acknowledge that it’s impossible to predict every single situation my child may encounter, there are specific measures I can take to be better prepared.

For instance, during a recent discussion within one of my online communities for special needs families, a fellow parent posed a thought-provoking question: “If your special needs child were to become separated from you while travelling, what crucial information would you want someone to have, aside from your contact details?” This question struck a chord with me. Because while my son, Nathan, typically has an adult companion when we go out, there have been instances where I found myself alone with him and needing to use a restroom quickly. He is a teenager, so taking him into the ladies’ room is no longer viable, as he giggles when he sees the women going in and out of the stalls.

Building upon the importance of readily available crucial information, recent news stories have highlighted cases where nonverbal special needs children ended up on the wrong school bus or disembarked at the incorrect stop. I can feel the pain of these frantic parents as they pray and hope their child will return home safely. Thankfully, all of these children did. However, I noticed that there was specific information that the children had on their person, which helped the police or kind citizens identify who to call. 

The importance of being prepared

Picture yourself on a family vacation, surrounded by the bustling crowds of an amusement park or airport. In a split second, you lose sight of your child with special needs, and panic takes hold. It becomes clear that having your contact information alone isn’t sufficient for such a scenario. In moments like these, you realize the necessity of a well-thought-out plan. In response to this critical concern, I conducted thorough research and am now sharing essential information and actionable steps to ensure the safety of your special needs child while travelling.

 1. Travel buddy

If your child tends to wander, it’s a good idea to travel with a trusted friend or family member who can offer additional support and help supervise them. Another option is using medical alert jewelry as a travel buddy, which is especially helpful for nonverbal or medically fragile children with special needs. These bracelets or necklaces provide crucial information if your child becomes lost during travel. 

2. Child locator device

A child tracking device or GPS tracker for kids is specifically designed to help parents monitor their child’s whereabouts in real-time. These devices utilize GPS, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to provide precise location information. They often include geo-fencing capabilities, allowing parents to set boundaries and receive notifications when their child enters or exits designated areas. Furthermore, some devices feature SOS functions, two-way communication, and a range of wearable options, such as smartwatches or clip-ons, providing discreet and versatile choices to meet individual preferences and needs.

3. Medical information

In addition to child locator devices, there are several other ways to ensure your child’s safety during travel by incorporating vital information on their person. These methods include using medical ID bracelets or necklaces, laminated ID cards or tags securely attached to clothing or backpacks, smartphone apps designed for child safety, discreet clothing labels with essential details, and safety whistles attached to clothing or bags. Moreover, you can also use communication devices, emergency contact cards in wallets or purses, and regular practice sessions with your child on what to do if they get lost during travel. Emphasize the importance of staying in one place and finding a trusted adult or authority figure.

4. Emergency plan

Have a clear emergency plan in place. Make sure your child knows who to approach for help if they get separated from you. Teach them to identify airport or airline staff, security personnel or law enforcement officers.

5. Familiarize your child

Before the trip, use visual aids or social stories to familiarize your child with airport and flight procedures and amusement park or mall visits, helping them understand what to expect.

6. Travel during off-peak times

Consider travelling during off-peak times when airports and flights are less crowded. This can reduce stress for both you and your child.

7. Creating a lost child kit

Create a lost child kit with a printed document containing your child’s vital details, including emergency contacts beyond your own, and make multiple copies to distribute across bags and family members. Utilize smartphone features to set up emergency contacts and make medical information accessible when the device is locked, providing added security.

8. Stay calm

If your child does become separated from you, it’s crucial to maintain as much composure as possible. Promptly notify the appropriate personnel, such as the police or airport/airline staff, and ensure you provide them with the necessary information to facilitate assistance.

In conclusion, travelling with a special needs child presents unique challenges and responsibilities. Beyond the obvious contact information, parents must prepare by considering vital medical details, communication preferences, and behavioural triggers. Creating a lost child kit with this information can be a lifesaver during unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, teaching your child safety skills and using identification items, such as medical ID bracelets or discreet tags, can further enhance their safety. Remember, staying calm, seeking help from authorities, and utilizing the prepared information are essential steps to ensure your child’s well-being during travel adventures.

I would be delighted to provide further information and support on this topic or any other related to ensuring safe and enriching travels for children with special needs. Feel free to reach out to me at christinese@raisingspecialneeds.us or connect with me on Facebook or Instagram @Christine Staple Ebanks. I’d love to hear from you.

 

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