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Sensory Road TripWhether it’s summer time or the holidays – it’s prime time for family travel.

Your family may be filled with seasoned travelers or is headed out for your first major road trip ever.  If you have a child with sensory challenges, it helps to think ahead. Don your Sensory Savvy lenses to ensure smoother travels.  Check out these 12 considerations for a sensory savvy road trip to keep your kids regulated and make the travel experience as pleasant as possible.

1. Clothing

Choose at least two outfits that are ultra-comfortable for your child – one to wear and one to keep in an easy-to-reach place in the car.  Wet cuffs from washing hands or damp pant legs from racing through an unexpected rainstorm at a rest area can seem extra-intolerable to a child stuck in a car seat.  An extra pair or favorite clothing to change into can save hours of complaints and unpleasantries.

2. Outerwear

Before leaving, check the weather forecast for your destination, as well as for several locations along the way.  Then, place appropriate outerwear in an easy-to-access place in the vehicle to grab, as necessary, at rest areas.  Be sure that boots, sweaters, hoodies, jackets and other outerwear are ones your child can easily tolerate in terms of texture, weight and fit.  Consider the ease with which your child can put on or take off each item. There’s no reason to exasperate everyone with fastener frustrations as you preclude “too hot” “too cold” or “too wet” meltdowns along the way.

3. Weight and Cover

Don’t forget that weight can be regulating for some children.  Consider taking along a [easyazon-link asin=”B001TZGI5G” locale=”us”]weighted lap blanket[/easyazon-link] or stuffed toy.  Alternately, tuck blankets around your child in the seat.

4. Potty and Plastic Bags

Children with interoception challenges may find it particularly difficult to judge when they have to use the rest room along the way.  Even if children are beyond their potty-training years, it can be helpful to keep a [easyazon_link identifier=”B005UJ3332″ locale=”US” tag=”speciism0f-20″]training potty seat[/easyazon_link] lined with plastic bags in the car for “emergency” use on long stretches of highway where services are unavailable.  In the event that accidents happen, extra plastic bags come in handy for collecting soiled clothing.

5. Waterproof Mats and Pull Ups

When lulled by a long car ride, even potty-trained children sometimes fail to wake themselves when they need to use the rest room.  To avoid messy clean ups, it can be helpful to lay waterproof, yet absorbent, mats on car seats, or to consider revisiting disposable, absorbent underwear or cloth [easyazon_link identifier=”B00HB0WN5C” locale=”US” tag=”speciism0f-20″]pull ups[/easyazon_link] during portions of the trip when it is likely that your child will fall asleep.  A trash bag with a towel over it can work if your child will tolerate the noise and texture of such a combination.

6. Bucket and Clean Up Cloths

Children with interoception challenges also can find it difficult to speak up “in time” when they need to vomit.  Having a bucket and clean up cloths at arm’s reach is a wise idea even if your child has not previously been prone to car sickness.

7. Drinks

Drinking through a straw can be calming and organizing.  Providing your child with small amounts of water – or a thick, favorite, well-tolerated drink – after each rest stop can help your child stay regulated.  Be wary of putting too much fluid in cups though, as not only can that mean more potty stops (or accidents!), but also more opportunities for bored hands to drip or spill the liquid on car or clothing.  Also, stay away from drinks that may be new to your child.

8. Snacks

If you don’t mind the kids eating in your vehicle, doling out a variety of sensory-friendly snacks can make trips pass more quickly.  Consider chewy dried fruit, an occasional lollipop or hard candy, crispy fruit slices, crunchy nut mixes, etc.  Vary textures and sweetness/saltiness.  Go for nutrient value for the most part, but include a few treats now and again.

9. Meals

Some sensory children benefit from special diets.  However, most service areas do not offer foods consistent with these diets.    Consider packing a cooler with foods that meet your child’s needs so you can have picnics along the way.  If your trip is an extra-lengthy one, map out exits where you can find stores to purchase special diet foods along the way.

10. Sensory Breaks

Plan ample time for rest stops.  The benefits of spending 20 minutes or more encouraging sensory diet activities every few hours should not be ignored.  A bag of heavy work activities, such as balls

, [easyazon_link identifier=”B0007IS714″ locale=”US” tag=”speciism0f-20″]stretchy bands[/easyazon_link], movement cards, or even a [easyazon_link identifier=”B001HA0J30″ locale=”US” tag=”speciism0f-20″]parachute[/easyazon_link] if your traveling party is large enough to play with one, can add variety to each stop.

11. Mobiles and Mirrors

Car mobiles and baby mirrors are not just for babies.  Consider borrowing or buying a small collection of these to rotate throughout your trip.  Hanging them by the window can provide your child tactile and visual stimulation.  It can also keep your child looking up – and eventually somewhat up and out, which can work to help prevent car sickness.

12. Entertainment

Busy minds and regulated bodies tend to make road trips more pleasant.  For children who are not prone to car sickness, activity bags or trays can engage children during travel.  For other children, a rotation of audio books can entertain.  Videos, handheld games and traditional car games can all help time pass enjoyably, too.

No matter how prepared you are, unexpected things will happen along the way.  When they do, remember that attitude is everything.  Staying calm, upbeat and supportive yourself can do wonders for your child.

Plan. Then, stay positive.  Enjoy your travels.

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Martianne is a homeschooling mom with over 20 years of experience in education, youth work and dramatic arts both in the United States and abroad. With certifications as a Middle School Generalist and English 8-12 teacher, plus a drawer full of certificates from a wide variety of professional development workshops and graduate courses, she brings a comprehensive “traditional” background to her present-day creative pursuits. Visit Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.