Traveling with a sensory-sensitive child? Make sure you are prepared for the hotel, Airbnb, or other accommodations to have a great family vacation.
Most children naturally develop sensory processing skills. As something new is presented or experienced, their sensory system learns to recognize it and respond appropriately.
For a child struggling with sensory sensitivities, at times, they are unable to adapt their behavior in order to continue to function without having a negative response. Their brains are unable to organize or respond appropriately to the incoming sensory information. This may lead to sensory avoiding and seeking behaviors. “Sensory Seekers” are the children who do not receive enough sensory input and are constantly looking for input to get to that “just-right” level of arousal. These behaviors can impact their day because they are not able to focus or attend to tasks until they are at that just-right level. “ Sensory Avoiders” are the children who are sensitive to sensory input and look to avoid the input so their bodies can make sense of the messages.
Before we explain the key steps to think about when traveling with a sensory-sensitive child, it is important to understand Tactile, Vestibular, and Proprioceptive Input.
These three senses are foundational senses that allow us to function as human beings in our sensory-rich world.
Our tactile receptors help us to relate to everything that we touch. It allows us to understand the world through the world of exploring everything we touch through our skin. The temperature of the environment, water, or other sources, whether something feels smooth or rough, and the way we use our senses to hold on to certain things are also related to the tactile sense.
The tactile sense, in addition to its other capabilities, is also crucial when determining whether or not something is unpleasant. Some children might experience pain when they pinch themselves with an object and others can walk on sharp objects without even noticing.
When we talk about our vestibular receptors, we are referring to the balance of the body in relation to its environment. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and helps one to detect changes in gravity as it affects your body. Are you sitting, standing, lying down, upside down, spinning, standing still, etc.? It is often referred to as the internal GPS system of your body. Children with vestibular issues might feel dizzy or have trouble with balance.
When children are on the swings, leaning backward, walking down the steps, or doing an activity that requires balance, they might experience vestibular issues, and feel as if they lose control of their body.
The Proprioceptive Input refers to the way our muscles and joints work together. It is the sense that lets us know where our arms and legs are without having to look at them. It also includes the pressure we put on our muscles when we do an activity.
An example of difficulty interpreting proprioceptive input includes when children think that they are moving their hands and legs in a certain way, but in reality, they have turned in other ways. We need accurate proprioceptive input when we use our muscles to pick up something heavy, putting pressure on them.
Now that we know a little more about the three different types of sensory input, let us get into what you can do to make traveling with a sensory-sensitive child a little bit easier.
There are a few key things to keep in mind when staying at a hotel when you are on vacation and there are certain hotels that have sensory-friendly certifications, so you might want to consider those hotels for your vacation. Some hotels even have a sensory room that may become your safe-haven!
Here are some items to consider when traveling in a hotel:
Before booking your travel, call your hotel provider and ask if they have a kit for individuals with sensory issues. Weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, or having spare sheets in the room in case of middle-of-the-night accidents will go a long way to make sure that your child feels comfortable.
Ask about the elevators' noise, the sound of chairs that are in the lobby, the sound of the toilet, or anything else that would make your child uncomfortable.
You can bring a white noise machine or ask the hotel for a sound machine to help with noises inside the room.
Evaluate if the pool will feel overwhelming for your child. Having a big pool might sound great, but think about maybe booking a hotel room with multiple different size pools so that there are not too many people at once.
The playground might also be important to allow your child to play and de-stress, so take a look at the playground and make sure that it is appropriate for your child with the kind of equipment that the child would feel comfortable with.
When it comes to the elevator or stairs, some children may feel out of balance and the sound of the elevator might make the children feel uncomfortable, so you might need to look for a room on the ground floor, to avoid the use of the elevator or stairs.
When it comes to dining, you will want to make sure that your child is able to eat comfortably without any issues.
If your child has food sensitivities, be sure to bring along food that they can eat or talk to the hotel management to make sure that you can accommodate your child for food sensitivities.
It might be easier to look into Airbnb to offer a private experience altogether. You would typically have a private common area in addition to just a bedroom and bathroom. This will give your child a sense of security and allow them to feel more comfortable.
Having your private area will also give you more freedom to adjust and make your child more comfortable. Contact your host before arriving and ask if there can be any specific accommodations made for your child. You might also order and ship items before arriving to make sure that your child has a pleasant experience.
Some items that you might consider asking about include extra sheets, weighted blankets, a sound machine, and kitchen equipment to make sure you can cook for your family and avoid foods that your child does not enjoy.
Ask about the outdoor area to make sure that it is not overstimulating for your child, but also make sure that it will provide a safe haven to de-stress and decompress.
Are You Ready?
By following these steps and keeping these key things in mind, you can help to make traveling with a sensory-sensitive child a little bit easier and less stressful.
When traveling with a sensory-sensitive child, it's important to take into account all of the different types of sensory input that might be overwhelming for your child.
You know your child best, so look for ways to ease their anxiety and make sure that they have a positive travel experience.
Don't forget to pack your own sensory equipment that will make your child feel more at ease, especially with items that he or she might feel more familiar with.