Planning with a Special Needs Mom: Planning Together

Posted by on July 21, 2020 in Thoughts and Opinions | 0 comments

Annette Miller

In my house, there is a fine line between allowing the kids to feel prepared and comfortable with our vacation plans and pulling my hair out. If I tell them about the trip too early, they bombard me daily with questions. How many more days until we leave? How many days will we be there? You get the idea. As a result, I have worked with them to develop a planning timeline that allows them to build excitement and feel that their voice is heard without causing me to pull my hair out.


If you’re hoping to surprise them, find out how far in advance they would like to know about a trip. How involved would they like to be in choosing the destination, time of year, length of stay, rides, or activities? You may even be able to do some recon without tipping them off. I recently had my kids complete surveys about the destinations they each wanted to visit (for a long weekend, for a week’s vacation, or for a pie-in-the-sky dream trip). I also talk with them about “dream planning”: If we were going to visit (insert name of destination), what would you like to do there? This has given me a decent amount of information to get started on planning.


If you’re not surprising them, let them be as involved as is appropriate. Having some ownership in the planning will help them build excitement and to feel prepared for the experiences you’ll share. As a bonus, it can teach them about things like budgeting, time management, and geography. We’ll keep the learning as a secret between parents.

Video Validation

Depending on their challenges, it may be helpful to find videos of the rides or shows you’ll experience together. This can be reassuring for children who don’t like surprises and helpful for those who have sensory challenges. They’ll let you know which they want to do, which make them a little nervous, and which are just beyond them. This information will help you build an itinerary that everyone can enjoy.

Map It Out

My youngest tends to flee when he is overwhelmed. We have discovered that it is helpful to sit down and map out quiet corners where he can take a break. This gives us both peace of mind. He has the comfort of knowing that he can get away when he needs it, and I have the comfort of knowing where I can find him. As a precaution, I take photos of him each morning so that I have a current photo showing the clothing he is wearing that I can share if he gets lost. I also make sure that my phone number is physically on him somewhere. (We have tried temporary tattoos, medical ID bracelets, and writing my phone number on the inside of his MagicBand or a celebration button.)


Vacations can be a great way to unwind, but they can also be packed with fun and activities from morning until night. Whether you are living with special needs or not, be sure to build in some downtime. Take a day to enjoy the pool, to wander around your hotel (or the town), or to just relax and watch a movie together. My kids love to go and see and do everything they can, but they also struggle with being able to keep that enthusiasm and energy going throughout the day. We typically take a break in the middle of the day (water parks are our friends!) to help them recharge their batteries.

I hope that these tips will help you begin to build a vacation that works well for your entire family. If you think some of these ideas might work but doing it yourself would spoil a surprise, please reach out – I would be happy to interview them for you. You can find me at either or 734-262-5307.

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