Tuesday

10 Tips for Flying with ADHD Children - Planning a Disney World Vacation with an ADHD Family Part 1

planning a disney world vacation with adhd kids
Disney Magic Kingdom during the fireworks show


This is part 1 in a multi-part series on traveling to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL based on our trip in 2014.

Both of our little guys struggle with ADHD in addition to other challenges; so does my husband. When it comes to planning trips, I am (understandably) the planner and schedule maintainer. We took our first trip to Disney World last spring and are currently planning our next trip, so I thought it might be helpful to other families thinking about doing the same to share some of the things we learned from our last trip.

I knew Disney would be overwhelming for my boys and husband because ... well, STIMULATION EVERYWHERE! So I wanted to have a very clear and concise plan of attack. Disney vacations aren't super cheap and I wanted to make sure the entire experience was enjoyable for everyone. I also wanted to make sure we got the best bang for our buck! I'm going to be sharing some of the things we learned from our last trip that helped make our Disney World vacation successful last year, which we plan to apply to our upcoming trip this year.

Part 1 - Flying with ADHD Children to Disney World

If you plan to fly, like we did, it's best to go prepared! My husband I both traveled a lot as kids, so flying was something we were both accustomed to, however, we hadn't flown with children prior to last year. Knowing our kids and our flight schedule, we were able to anticipate things we'd need to make the flight as calm and turbulence free as possible (ironically we had a lot of turbulence on the flight down, but thankfully it was actual turbulence, not child-related).

1. Take a Late Flight if Possible! 

I know flying late can stink. You arrive really late, you're exhausted by the time you hit your hotel room and you technically pay for a night that you can't do anything beforehand at your destination. Okay, that seems like a lot of cons. However, if your kids are new or anxious fliers, taking a late flight can be a lifesaver! Odds are your kids won't be too willing to get extra sleep the night before you leave (which is a good thing for once), so if you take a late flight they may sleep (like my youngest did) most of the flight! Even if they don't sleep (like my oldest), they'll potentially be more low-key from sheer exhaustion. We unfortunately (or so I thought) took a late flight that departed around 9 pm, was delayed due to icy conditions, and arrived around 1 am. Yes, this was tiring, but our flight was quiet, calm and drama-free! 

2. Pack Snacks, Games and Charged Electronics in Each Kid's "Plane Bag". 

Whenever we travel, we pack each of our kids their own backpack full of travel necessities. Trust me, you want each kid to have their own bag to avoid conflict. In addition to the normal toiletries/extra change of clothes (which I'll touch on again below), we also pack fun snacks, activity books, crayons/markers/pencils and fully charged electronics. We let the kids eat snacks we don't normally allow (try to keep the sugar intake down to avoid sugar highs) and sometimes buy a brand new coloring book or new markers. We always make what's inside the bags a surprise, which tends to make everything inside ten times more desirable to them.

Especially when you have kids with SPD, you want to make sure you do what you can to help them with the changes in pressure on their eardrums. We find lollipops and gum are helpful, but it really depends on your child's age as to what may be the best fit. Always keep an eye on sleepy little ones as you obviously don't want them falling asleep with anything in their mouths. We found that since we took a late flight our kids fell asleep and were less upset about their "popping" ears than we anticipated!

"Plane Bag" Tip: Pack chargers in your children's "plane bags" or your carry-ons if you can't trust them with the chargers in their bags.

10 tips for flying to disney world with kids with ADHD

3. Charge Electronics Fully Beforehand! 

This may seem like a common-sense tip, but I can't tell you how many times we've forgotten until the last minute and had to go somewhere with only 10 minutes left on the boys' batteries ... which is never fun.

Charging Tip: While there are charging stations in the airport, we often found they were very busy or positioned in very busy areas. I'd anticipate using one as a last resort just in case.

4. Pack a Change of Clothes, Pjs, Meds and Toothbrush in Carry-Ons.

This is pretty much a rule of thumb for everyone, but we always make sure each kid has a carry-on that contains at least 1 change of clothes, pjs, their meds and a toothbrush. Our guys are still small enough that on trips that are 1 week or less, if we pack carefully, they can fit all of their clothes in their Samsonite carry-ons. It's important to make sure you have everything your kids need in case your check-ins are lost. Having clothes, pjs, meds and a toothbrush in each kid's carry-on means no matter what happens, especially because you're possibly taking a late flight, once you get to your hotel your kid is set to get ready for bed. And trust me, you'll probably want them as ready as possible for bed once you get to where you're going!

5. Anticipate the Wait!

10 tips for flying to disney world with kids with ADHDAs with most forms of travel, there are inevitably periods of waiting. This may have instantly given some of you anxiety as for many families with ADHD, waiting = trouble. You know exactly what kind of trouble I'm talking about--the hyper touching, hyper talking, hyper activity where you do everything in your power to make sure your child doesn't simultaneously touch or lick every surface while also impulsively running off into a busy crowd. Remember that "plane" bag I mentioned above? Include things for the wait as well. Waiting in line while you check in bags, at your gate, for your luggage, on the Magic Express bus (if you stay at a Disney resort like we did, make sure you do take advantage of this perk!), etc. I know too much screen-time isn't recommended for young children, but I've personally found that music, movies and games tend to be the most engaging in the busy airport environments. We often buy a brand new movie/game/cd for our kids the day we leave so that they don't inevitably pull an "I'm bored" two seconds into waiting.


Streaming Tip: If you have an app such as Xfinity TV Go or Netflix on your phone or child's device, you may be able to stream shows and movies on your phone. Our boys don't have their own smartphones yet, so they end up using our phones or Nooks. We did find that wifi at the airport was not strong enough to support using any of our streaming apps, so keep that in mind. 

6. You Can Never Have Too Many Sanitizing Wipes.

I know a lot of people tend to keep gel and spray-on sanitizers in their bags because they're compact and easy, but not only do they not actually remove the dirt on your hands (they simply kill the germs if they're effective), but they can't be used on a messy face. We tend to buy the Wet Ones travel packs and keep 1 pack in each kid's "plane bag" along with each of our carry-ons and my purse. 

Disposal Tip: Finding a trash can be hard while on the go, so pack a sandwich-sized ziploc alongside each pack of sanitizing wipes so that you can store the used ones in their without touching them again, then throw the entire ziploc away once you get to your hotel. 

10 tips for flying to disney world with kids with ADHD 7. In-Flight Movies - A Small Price to Pay For Peace

I know in-flight movies may seem like a waste of money to some, but with 1 swipe of our card we were able to fully occupy a severely impulsive, hyperactive 5 year old last time we took a flight. That was well-worth the $5 in my book!

8. Decent Over-the-Ear Headphones Are A Must

If your child will be using any sort of device with sound, make sure you bring or invest in decent over-the-ear headphones that fit your child well. In-ear headphones never work for our guys. They hate the feeling (both have SPD) and we find even the smallest ear pieces are still too big. We've gone through a lot of headphones over the years--some broke, some simply died--and I think a lot of finding the right pair is simple trial and error. I do suggest getting some with a volume limitation of some kind so that you're child can't make themselves go deaf, but other than that, we've found some we liked, some we hated and both of our kids tend to not agree on any one pair. 

Airport Vending Machines: If you lose or forget to grab headphones we have seen over-the-ear headphones in almost every airport vending machine we've passed in the last year. They are usually pricey and may not have some sort of volume limitation, but if you absolutely need them, it's an option. 

9. Discuss the Plan

As I'm sure you've gathered, we come up with a serious plan of attack for each trip. Part of our prep always includes discussing the parts of our plan that affect our kids with them. They both tend to have some anxiety when it comes to schedules in general, so going over everything they'll be doing and when they'll be doing it seems to help. We haven't done printed schedules for them for the day of departure (they do follow printed schedules for their school work, however), but tend to do countdown calendars for our departure and return dates. When they get older, we'll see if that changes. 

10. Designate Which Adult Will Manage Which Child/Children

It may seem silly to assign a parent to each child/children, but knowing who will be keeping track of whom has been a constant theme since our second child was born. Especially when it comes to busy environments and ADHD children, it is really important to make sure you're not stressing out over whether or not everyone is accounted for and being watched over. We've found it makes things run more smoothly, nobody gets lost and nobody feels as though they're trying to do "everything" themselves. 


There you have it, 10 tips we've tested out ourselves that tend to work for our family and our little ADHD'ers. While I can't promise everything will work for your family, hopefully at least some of these tips give you ideas on how to manage your guys the next time you travel to Disney World or anywhere else.

Do you have some amazing ADHD flying tips? Share them!


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