We have an adopted daughter with multiple special needs. While we were still learning about all of Angel’s diagnoses and trying to understand them, we found travel to be a challenge. We made the decision that Angel deserved a normal life and that even included travel and seeing the world. I knew that I didn’t want her disabilities to control her life, because I knew God placed her here with us for a reason and she was created for a great purpose! God willing, one day she will be able to share her story with other people with Special Needs and explain to them how she copes with her daily challenges.
We have traveled to many places over the years. We have been all over the United States, cruised the Caribbean Islands and even went to South Korea. The world is vast and full of adventures. We wanted to share our first experience with traveling with Angel; hopefully this will show you that your struggles, though unique, are shared by all of us as we learn how to cope with traveling with Special Needs.
Our first trip to Disney World was in 2009, so Angel was 7 years old. She had issues with crowded spaces and loud noise, so we were trying to find ways to help her cope. It didn’t go as well as we had hoped. Angel would have severe meltdowns, and by this, I mean drop on the ground, kicking and screaming and just inconsolable. For me, being her mom, I felt helpless, and fearful, not knowing what to do to help her, or even why she was really behaving in such a manner. When we returned home, we were determined to learn for our next big trip.
We learned that noise reduction headphones would help her. We learned this while watching the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC. Harold had rented a radio with two noise canceling headsets to listen to the driver radios. He placed one on Angel just before the fly-over and starting of the engines. We were amazed that Angel was engaged in the activity, when she would usually scream or ball-up upon hearing such noise. So, we went out and bought several pairs of noise reducing headphones and we always leave a pair in the van, so we always have a set. We also carry extras when we go to functions to loan or give to people who need them.
We started using a picture schedule (which had simple pictures of everything that we were planning to do that day), so Angel could understand and prepare for upcoming activities. This allowed her to be ready for the events before they happened. We also started using a timer to help her transition between activities.
Angel must believe she is in control of the situation; this is a big issue for her. We learned that giving her two choices (ones that we decided upon in advance) and asking her to pick one gave her a sense of control. This usually helps to prevent a meltdown which result from her feeling out of control.
We use fidgets for Angel which are objects to hold in your hands to fidget with. This can help occupy her when we are standing in a line (which she doesn’t do well with!). Occasionally, she can be convinced to color, using Crayola twist up coloring pencils only, and the coloring books MUST have actual lips that she can color lipstick onto.
Electronics are her first choice of preferred activity. Her iPod was #1, until we had to remove it from the choice list because she was smart enough to keep bypassing the parental block and going places she didn’t need to venture into. Her Kindle Fire Kids Edition is that greatest! This parental block built in is Amazing thus far! It has games she likes to play such as make up games, dress up and fashion. Lately, her favorite is iHeart Family radio so she can use the wireless headphones and listen to good songs.
Most days are a struggle with Angel, but we keep plugging away at life and learning! It’s funny because she can finally master a simple task and we want to throw a party! Lori recalls the day that after 15 years, she finally learned to tie her own tennis shoes. It was if we had just won the lottery!!!! We make a big deal out of the smallest of accomplishments with Angel! She needs that praise and motivation to keep pushing forward and trying to learn new tasks.
There is hope for everyone, you just need to remain focused and remember that you are not alone on this journey. If we can provide encouragement or helpful hints for other families, just email us so we can be in contact. We live to serve our community and love to share in the success of our friends.