Tuesday, 24 June 2014

My Top 5 Tips: Booking A Holiday Abroad For A Child With Special Needs

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When you have a special needs child a jet setting lifestyle isn't as simple as packing a bag and boarding an airplane. The truth is you have 1001 things to think about before you even choose a destination, then another 1001 things to do before you book or pack your bags but you soon become an expert and each holiday brings to light a new thing to remember for next time.
We've packed our bags and jumped aboard an airplane a fair few times since Kyd was born and so we've compiled a few do's and don'ts of holiday planning along the way.
Here is our top 5 things to think about before you book...

1: Research your destination

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Research is everything for Special Needs parents throughout all aspects of life so this shouldn't come as a surprise. There are many different things to research whilst planning a holiday with an SEN child, some of which you'd not really think about unless you've fallen foul or heard stories of situations best avoided.
There are so many questions to ask about the destination before booking a holiday but it all depends on YOUR own child. Only you know your child and what they can or can't do, will or won't cope with, will or won't enjoy. Here are some questions to think about when looking for your destination...
Length of flight AND transfers to and from the airport. Are they going to deal with a long haul flight? Short haul flight? Coach journey?
Is the area safe for 'runners' (children with a habit of running off)? Are there lots of high walls, large drops or unsafe areas?
Is the area flat or hilly? Wheelchair/buggy accessible? The area you are planning to go to may be all hills and long walks to get anywhere, will your child cope with that? Can they walk that far or are the rest of the party OK to push them in a wheelchair or buggy?
Is it a busy area? Lot's of large crowds and people? Will they cope with that? Is there a quieter area you could go to that would be more suited?
Different countries have different views and acceptance levels of SEN children. This may sound like an odd thing to have to think about in this day and age but a lot of countries are still quite behind the times with equality and so it pays to know their thoughts and ways if you want to avoid the strange looks or hurtful comments. I say this mainly because people can be cruel and sometimes it's best to avoid them than confront them in their own country full of like minded people. It is only a few places I think, but it is worth thinking about and asking if anyone has been there and what their experiences were, failing that if you're brave... google it.

2: Pick the right Holiday Company

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Some holiday companies and hotels look amazing in the pictures and promise the earth but fail to deliver, make sure you think about that before you book.
Again it is back to research and recommendations. Ask people who have children with similar needs which companies they would recommend and have actually used themselves. Check out TripAdvisor for general recommendations but always put your SEN spin on it and take it from there.
Phone and ask both the company and the hotel ahead of booking, hear it from the horses mouth so to make sure each story matches. This is not paranoia, a parent needs to know their family is in safe hands, so check, check and check again.
Inform them well in advance of your needs where possible, you're more likely to get the best help and not miss out if you're organised and cooperative. Companies appreciate your organisation too as it means they can make your stay as amazing as it should be. If you don't tell them in advance, don't expect as good a service as it could be, they aren't mind readers and it is always first come first served. You snooze, you lose and all that.
Look into what each company does for Disabilities and the exceptions and adaptions they make for different abilities. Some companies have discounts for certain disabilities so don't forget to ask before booking.
When you're looking into picking a company you may find your head is hitting a brick wall for a while but they are out there, I promise. Companies like Mark Warner have a great reputation for Special Needs and Disability holidays for all ages, so take a look at what they offer, you might not need to look any further.

3: Look Into Childcare and Entertainment Available

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SEN childcare abroad is very different to SEN childcare here. Here we would expect some kind of help or equality, abroad that isn't guaranteed. Although they are lovely and willing to give your child the best holiday ever, there is the small/huge detail of the language barrier and training getting in the way.
Before booking a holiday check whether it is English based childcare, what their view on SEN children joining in their activities are and what, if any, training they have for your particular disability. Knowing this will help you decide which holiday company is best for you.
It isn't the be all and end all to have children's entertainment that they can be included in though. Knowing all about it and researching will help you plan your time away properly. If necessary you can just avoid particular times by the pool when the other children are getting involved so not to cause an upset. You can create your own holiday entertainment and discover shows and entertainment elsewhere.
Mark Warner is one of the only Holiday Companies that offers one to one holiday childcare at some of their destinations when booked in advance. This is with an English SEN trained nanny and can be for all ages. It means that children can join in all the activities offered for their age range or their ability range with the satisfaction that you as parents know that they are in safe hands. It makes their holiday and your holiday as parents much more relaxing.

4: Booking with a good Airline

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When booking the flight make sure you read the airline's disability policy and see what they offer as special treatment on the big day. Some things need pre booking but others are a general disability guideline which applies to all automatically. If in doubt ring the airline directly and ask for their help.
Don't be offended if you are asked to prove it, it is mandatory in some companies so keep your DLA award letter on you or your Blue Badge will do if you've got one.
At check in, many offer a quick queuing system for disabilities, this means SEN children too so find a member of staff and ask for Disability check in, they'll direct you to the right place. This avoids queues and crowds so can really help anxious SEN flyers or just really keen ones.
When checking in remember to outline and explain properly the help that you need on the flight, so they can try and help you if they can. Remember that they want a peaceful flight as much as you and so a good airline will always try and help with this. This includes extra leg room so not to feel claustrophobic and gives you space to play or calm them, although these are first come first served so get to the airport early to avoid disappointment. Also think about sitting near a toilet if you have pads or catheters to change and wheelchair services and access, which they'll bring to the door before you get off to make life easier.

5: Read the Insurance Small Print and Save Some Emergency Cash

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I know, this is an obvious tip but so many forget to even get Holiday Insurance whilst going away, let alone take time to read what it is they are and aren't insured for.
When buying insurance for an SEN child with medical needs READ THE SMALL PRINT. Some companies don't cover existing illnesses, loss of medication and so on. If your child has any existing or reoccurring illness it pays to make sure they are covered.
On top of this, order and pack, double the amount of medication needed and place it in both your hand luggage and your suitcase. The chances of you losing both is next to none but losing one that has everything in it, is just too much to risk for me. On top of that, if that does happen, being able to find the specific medication needed in a small foreign pharmacy is a gamble I wouldn't want to take myself. Plus they'll be rather pricey to buy over there too.
Speaking of money, don't forget even if you do have insurance if you need any medical attention you will need to pay excess, unless you've paid a higher insurance premium. It pays to have a prepaid card with money on, a few hundred pounds in whatever currency needed should do it, JUST IN CASE. Don't be tempted to spend it if you start to run out of money, you'll be tempting fate, pretend that card doesn't exist. You can always go on a spree once in Duty Free and out of danger... a big bottle of perfume or Gin is a lovely treat for yourself to end the holiday on a great note... a girl can try can't she?!

I hope this has given you a few ideas as to what to look for when booking a holiday with your special needs child.

I hope you have a lovely holiday. If you need anything else don't hesitate to ask.
I'll be back with My Top 10 things to do with tweens on a budget holiday and My Top 5 Packing Tips for a child with Special Needs soon.

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  1. This is a great post, Alice! Have an amaaaaazing time in Kos!!!

  2. Thanks Ginge. I can't wait. We need to have a practice packing you away in the suitcase though, unless contortion is your hidden skill?


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