As a special needs parent, a field trip presents you with challenges many other parents do not think about. Depending on the severity of your child’s challenges, some days it’s difficult to convince yourself the effort is worth it. Believe me, I understand. There have been many times I wanted to plop myself on the ground right in the middle of a crowd and cry alongside my son.

There may be days when you choose to stay home and retain your sanity, and that’s ok. For the other days, use these suggestions and a little extra chocolate to help you have a successful outing.

Choose wisely. One of the benefits of home education is choice. You don’t have to make your child attend the same field trips as the local school. Whether your child battles a serious illness and tires easily, faces fear of crowds as part of a developmental delay, or needs to stay away from excessive germs because of a weakened immune system, you can tailor the field trip to your child’s needs. Schedule your trip during your child’s peak energy time or a time of day when fewer people are there. If your child is afraid to leave the house but is obsessed with airplanes, schedule a field trip to an airport or museum with a flight exhibit. You get the idea.

Start small. Shorter successful trips are better than long excursions filled with anxiety and meltdowns. Trust your gut. Perhaps you get that niggling feeling that it’s time to pack up and go home, and yet you want your son to experience “just one more ___”. It is much better for everyone involved to leave before crises and have a positive experience, than to push the limit and drag your screaming child out of the building. Consider purchasing a membership to a local destination and make frequent short trips. 

Know where you’re going. If you’ve never been to the destination, find out as much as you can ahead of time. Many times, just asking another parent can get you the information you need, but it doesn’t hurt to check out a website or make a phone call. If your child has physical limitations, you need to know what accommodations the facilities have. Perhaps your child needs frequent breaks—will that be possible? Do they have items your food-allergic child can eat, or will you need to pack your own?

Be colorful. Purchase brightly colored t-shirts for your children to wear when you go on a field trip. Then you can spot them more easily in a crowd. You may also want to wear the same color as your kids, so they in turn can find you more quickly. One of the best suggestions I ever read was to take a picture of your child when you get to the location, perhaps by a sign that would also help show how tall he is. Should your child get lost, you have a picture of what he looks like and the clothes he is wearing. You may also want to equip your child with a way to remember your phone number—special dog tags for boys or a bracelet with your phone number in the beads for girls.

Empower your child. Make sure your child has everything she needs to be successful—adequate sleep, a good meal before leaving, comfortable clothing, and a calming/comfort item if necessary. Empowering does not equal babying. Let him carry what he needs in a backpack. Work together to create a signal for the child to use if he/she’s feeling overwhelmed or tired. Allow him to make some of the decisions or be the tour guide with the map.

Come prepared. Borrow the Boy Scouts’ motto and bring extra food, drink, clothing, wipes, Pull-Ups, etc. Will you have down time while waiting for a meal? Bring something for your child to do if he has a hard time waiting. Does your child need medication at certain times? Bring a spare just in case. You don’t need enough to require a pack horse, but it is better to have extras when you need them rather than scouring your purse for the last dollar bill to get a snack for a very hungry child.