Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Have a Child with Down Syndrome, Will Travel

Last week, I took the munchkin to Mexico.  It wasn't her first trip there.  I've had a few comments since then that range from "Wow!  You're brave!" to "I could never do that with my kid" to "You must be crazy!"  Let me address those.  I am definitely a little crazy and maybe brave.  And, in my opinion, you can do that with your kid and you should!  (I obviously don't know every single family dynamic or child but I think the vast majority of kids (special needs or not) should be traveling or at least getting out of their comfort zone.)  

In Sara's first 18 months home, she had been in 18 states. She's added at least two new ones since then.  I don't say that to brag.  I say that because traveling is obviously something I enjoy.  I was worried that she would change that but she really hasn't.  She loves to fly and is a road trip warrior.  Obviously that makes it easier to travel with her.  She's seen both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  She's been in more airports than I can count.  She's been to Mexico 3 times.  If I want to go, we go.

Now, is traveling with her easy?  No.  Does she always enjoy it?  No.  She's not a big fan of Mexico.  It triggers things in her that are hard for her to deal with.  But she's getting better!!!  It took her until Wednesday this time to start asking when she'd go home.  Do the positives outweigh the negatives?  Absolutely.  

1.   She gets out of her comfort zone.  Sara is perfectly happy to stay home, eat goldfish crackers, and watch her ipad.  Forever.  While this is fine on an occasional Saturday, she needs to experience more in life.

2.  If I don't get her used to traveling now, I'll never be able to travel again.  I'm a single mom.  It's just the two of us.  If I ever want to travel again, I need to train my travel partner when she's young.  Not when she's 18 or 28 and "mature enough to handle it."  By then, she'll be permanently planted in front of Disney Junior and I'll never get her out of the house.

3.  She's learning that mommy is a constant no matter where she goes.  When a child has moved around a lot, they need to learn that home is the person and not the place.  She needs to be attached to me and not her things or her space.  Mommy travels with you and always stays with you.

4.  Life experiences.  Kids (and adults) can learn more from life experiences than they ever can in a classroom or from a book (so says this teacher)!  Give your kids life experiences---even if they may be a little uncomfortable at first.

5.  Especially in international travel, you have the chance for others to see that having a disability is ok and that a child with Down syndrome can be part of a family.  It seems to so simple to us but it's not in so many parts of the world.  We encountered kids who were both kind and cruel to Sara.  It's hard to watch but it's educating people who just don't see kids with special needs around them.

1.  Sara tends to wet her pants when she gets overwhelmed and frustrated.  It's not the worst behavior ever but it takes some extra planning on my part.  I have to have lots of extra clothes on me at all times.  And I end up with a suitcase full of nasty dirty clothes.  But it is what it is.  She does it at home sometimes as well.

2.  It's exhausting.  Three days later and I'm still exhausted.  I got up, put Sara on the bus and went back to bed for two hours.  Managing all of her needs while adjusting to time changes and just being on the go for a week is tiring.  There's no way around it.

3.  It can be hard to keep up the pace of the rest of the group.  You may have to miss out on certain activities because it's just too much.  It's ok to take an afternoon and nap or swim or chill in your hotel room.  Just make sure you aren't doing that the whole time!

4.  Your child may not be welcomed or accepted every where you go.  It's hard to experience but it's true, especially if you travel internationally.  People may point or stare or ask awkward questions.  Try your best not to take it personally or to go on the offensive.  Lots of people just don't know any better.  (It hurts.  It just does.  Try to wait until after your child is in bed for the night to cry about it.)  Just to be clear, the number of kind, welcoming, accepting people has far outweighed the ignorant, unkind ones in our travels.  But those negative interactions tend to stick in my head.    


1.  Travel with people who know and love your child.  I fly alone with Sara but we are always meeting people on the other end that love and adore her (and me).  I'm sure that there are people who take trips with their child alone.  I'm just not one of them.  Having support of friends and family that love us is invaluable to me.  It keeps me sane when things get tough.  It's nice to know that at least one person will hang back with you when you fall behind the group or wait for you while she goes to the bathroom for the millionth time or bring you breakfast in the airport when you haven't slept all night.

2.  Know that it will be hard.  Vacations are no longer relaxing for me.  I used to listen to music and read on the plane.  And on the beach.  Now I'm making sure she has everything she needs and giving her my phone to keep her happy.  I'm squishing into little plane bathrooms (because she loves them) and swimming in the ocean.  It's not about me.  It's about her having experiences and being happy.  I know that going in.

3.  Plan things that are both in and out of your child's comfort zone.  I'm all for Sara experiencing new things but I also know she needs some time in her comfort zone.  For example, instead of tacos every night, I made sure we went to a restaurant where she could get a hot dog.  She needs some familiar in her unfamiliar.  (Don't we all?)

4.  Start when they are little.  Start when they are smaller and portable.  Get them used to traveling early.  It will only get harder as they are older.

5.  Be prepared for the negative behavior.  Expect it.  We were gone for 8 days.  I took 12 pairs of shorts and underwear for her.  (It was still not enough. Ugh.)  I knew she would have at least one major meltdown.  I usually still take her stroller and her noise cancelling headphones.  I fly with a HUGE backpack of everything she could possibly need.  I try to be prepared for every possibility.  (I was not prepared for the headphones to break on the first day.)  

6.  Schedule some down time when you get home.  When it was just me, I used to fly on a Sunday night and work on Monday morning.  (Or sometimes fly on Monday morning and go straight to work.)  I don't do that anymore.  I know that we will both need some recovery time after a trip.  Some down time in our comfort zones.

I don't have all the answers and I don't get everything right.  I just believe that if you ever want to be able to travel with your child, you should start young.  Go to the places you want them to experience.  And then buckle up because it will be a bumpy ride but so worth it!

This group was so helpful to me last week.  
If you want to see more about our trip, you can check out our Facebook page.