Getting out and about if your child has a disability

Going on outings when your child has a disability can take some planning. But getting out that front door to do something together as a family is totally worth it – not only for your own well-being, but also to build upon your child’s experience of the world.

It’s very normal for parents of children with a disability to feel anxious about the prospect of going on outings. At home, where you’ve created a very safe environment, you and your child know exactly what to expect from the daily routine. The unpredictability of the outside world can be scary.

There are things that you can do to make your child feel safer and to ease your own anxiety. Let’s take a look at some strategies you can use to make outings a lot more manageable.

Play to your child’s strengths

As a starting point, think of places or spaces that your child would feel comfortable in. If they have autism and don’t like loud noises or bright lights, then you could start with a quick trip to a quiet museum or perhaps a short bushwalk.

If they use a wheelchair, then do some research into wheelchair accessibility before you set out. Public spaces like zoos and museums are generally accessible and easy to get around.

Or, if they have communication difficulties, you could explore places that have been awarded the Communication Access Symbol. This symbol indicates that the staff are trained to communicate with people who have communication difficulties. If you live in Victoria, you could check our directory of Communication Accessible places for inspiration.

Prepare your child

It can really help to give your child a clear plan about what’s coming up. Explain the outing to them. You could give them answers to the ‘five whys’ – who, what, where, when and why. You could draw them a mud map or show them pictures of the place you’re going. You could give them a timeline or schedule. It can all help to ease their anxiety.

Like you would with any child, you may want to give them some behavioural boundaries and simple rules before they go – focusing on how they should behave, rather than what they shouldn’t do. For example, if the outing is a trip to the museum, you might say, “Sammy, museums are quiet places. This means that there’s no shouting or running.”

Give yourself plenty of time

Most parents will agree that things like getting ready for school take a little longer when you’re caring for a child with a disability. This is particularly true for bigger activities like family outings. The last thing you want when you’re heading out for the day is to feel rushed – allow some extra time for getting from A to B, and then for while you’re out and about, too.

Bring back-up games or toys

If your child gets overwhelmed while they’re out, then what can you give them to make them feel safe again? Is it an iPad with a favourite game on it? A sensory toy or book? Sneak something into your bag for emergencies – but don’t bring it out unless they absolutely need it. Otherwise, you might find you lose them to their iPad and they could have just stayed at home!

While you’re at it, make sure you pack a bag with everything that your child might need on their outing – from a change of clothes to snacks and drinks.

Start small and with an open mind

Don’t tackle a day at the zoo before you’ve tried an hour at the park. This might sound obvious, but start with short outings to fairly familiar places. As your confidence builds, then you might want to start exploring further afield.

And remember, even the best-laid plans fall apart sometimes. That’s life! If you can keep an open mind – knowing that you might have to leave an event before it’s finished or change your plans mid-way through the day – then you’re on your way to creating positive, lasting memories with your child.