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Vacation Destinations for Kids Who Struggle

Vacation planning tips for families with children who struggle with sensory, social and behavioral issues.

Parenting is hard work, and you deserve a break. But touring Europe with kids is daunting — not to mention crazy expensive — and if your child struggles with sensory, social and behavioral issues or issues related to a spectrum or processing disorder,  it might make long car trips or visits to crowded places impractical. Don't despair, though — your family can have a great time that's just your style, if you know where to go.

Cruises for Families Who Need Accommodations

Cruising with kids is surprisingly easy. Nearly everything's included in the price, which makes budgeting easy, and there are lots of activities to do that don''t require loading kids into and out of cars and taxis. Cruises are also great for children with special dietary restrictions. Instead of struggling at new restaurants every day, you can make all meal arrangements before the trip.
Perhaps best of all? Many cruise lines are set up to support families with children who have special needs. For instance, Royal Caribbean offer services such as an onboard toy lending program and a printable social story for children with autism as well as expedited check-in and boarding. Some groups also organize special cruises designed for children with particular special needs, so you might even be able to connect with similar families while on vacation.

Theme Parks and Sensory Breaks

Theme parks all around the world are working toward becoming more inclusive. For now, if you're vacationing with special needs kids, you can't beat Disney. Both Disney resorts, in Anaheim and Orlando, are designed to suit the needs of all families. For instance, if your child is unable to wait in lines, you can take advantage of the Disability Access Service program, which allows you to schedule your ride times and skip the long lines. While Disney may not be an ideal spot for kids with sensory processing disorder, some of the excess sensory input can be managed with proper planning, like packing a sensory bag complete with headphones, chewelry and weighted blanket, and carefully planning for relaxation breaks throughout the trip.
Disney staff are trained to be accommodating and sensitive to special needs of all kinds, and you can arrange for meals that suit any dietary restrictions. In fact many of the restaurants are already serving gluten-free and dairy-free options. And if you stay in a resort hotel, you can easily hop on a shuttle and go hang out by the pool whenever you all need a break.

Outdoor Adventures and Adaptive Activities

The power of the great outdoors can be transformational for kids with special needs. Camping and boating on your own may not be feasible if you're not experienced with these activities, but a number of dude ranches and adventure resorts are equipped to welcome kids with extra needs.
Ski resorts such as Smuggler's Notch in Vermont offer adaptive programs for kids with all levels of need. Out West, you can find adaptive horseback riding and whitewater rafting programs like the ones offered at Utah's Splore. Being able to participate in these adventure activities, just like everyone else, could be the biggest thrill your special needs child has ever had. For a more relaxed experience, plan a weekend of camping and short hikes allowing your child to reconnect with nature without the pressures and over stimulation of a more scheduled adventure.

Staycation for Easy Family Fun

Staying at the local hotel might not have seemed like a dream vacation before you had children. But for kids, any hotel stay is exciting — even if you only go 5 miles down the road. This is a budget-friendly option that's perfect for your first family vacation. If something goes wrong, you can always pack up and head home early.
Your kids will probably be delighted with just a simple hotel room, but you can make the experience even more special by packing little surprises such as new pajamas, activity bags and tasty treats. Have dinner delivered to your room, go swimming in the hotel pool, and explore the lobby. You might be surprised how much adventure you can find in your own neighborhood.
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