What is your personal connection to the special needs community?
We are founders of the Starbrite Kids Program and Starry Night Travel, LLC, a travel agency that specializes in planning travel for families with a child with special needs. We have fifty years of combined experience educating children with a broad spectrum of disabilities.
What is Starbrite and how did the concept come to be?
Starbrite is a program that provides parents the help and supports needed to make travel not only possible but a rewarding and enriching experience.
Throughout the years, we had repeatedly heard how difficult it was for parents to go anywhere with their child with special needs. Hearing this along with our belief that every child should be afforded the same opportunity to travel led us to open our travel agency and write books for our parents. Starbrite Kids’ Travel, LLC donates a portion of the proceeds from our books and travel agency to children’s charities.
Would you advise first time traveling parents to plan their vacation or use a travel agent?
Our resource book is an extensive, well-organized, step-by-step resource. It is parent-friendly and includes questionnaires, timelines, family planners, and evidence-based strategies, and activities. However, if your child has a significant medical history or mobility issues, you may want to use this book in conjunction with a special needs travel agent to ensure all accommodations and special provisions are put in place before travel.
What is it and what is the difference between the fun and the W.A.I.T bag?
The W.A.I.T Box is put together by the parent with their child’s interests and abilities in mind. It is portable and provides a distraction for your child when required to wait.
What are your best packing tips for families with autism?
Give your child his suitcase. Include him in the process of getting ready for the trip by giving him choices of what to wear. For example, you can lay out five shirts and tops and have him pick 4 of them. When packing, place your child’s clothing in the order they will need to put on while dressing. For example, top to bottom – place underwear, shirt, pants, and socks and tie each outfit together with a ribbon to secure. Place items you will be using first on the trip. Giving your child choices will give him a sense of independence.
How can parents prepare for unexpected issued during the trip?
For those unexpected situations when your child may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious relaxation techniques will help him cope/calm down. In our resource book, we provide several relaxation techniques that can be adjusted to your child’s age and cognitive level. Also, a “safe and quiet spot” is usually identified on the attraction Web site. Another useful technique is to use distractors to redirect inappropriate behaviors. Use positive reinforcers when child complies.
What tools can parents who want to practice at home for going through the TSA checkpoint use?
Create a visual story for your child about going through security, set up a mock security checkpoint in your home using a doorway or trellis. For an interactive Internet game, “Eric Goes to the Airport” visit www.whizkidgames.com.
What would be your best advice for traveling parents?
Try to be prepared as much as possible before going on vacation.
Do this by:
Talking to your child about the family vacation.
Pick a quiet time when your child is calm. Sit together. Utilize visual aids such as brochures, maps, videos, magazines, and the Internet to give your child a picture of what to expect, where you are going, and what you may see.
Reflect on other trips or outings
Remember how he reacted when faced with challenging situations in the past either on a prior vacation or other outings.
Listen and observe how your child reacts. Both positively and negatively will give you insight into how he is feeling.
The goal is to identify trigger(s) and the obstacle(s) that need to be addressed before you trip.
In your book you recommend video-modeling and social stories as tools; which do you like better?
Video modeling and Carol Gray’s Social Stories are two examples of visual supports. Both are excellent visual aids that utilize visual items to communicate with children who have difficulty understanding language. Video modeling gives children the opportunity to view, practice, and imitate new behaviors. We have found many children love seeing themselves on the screen.
What are the top five safety tips parents should remember and implement?
First of all, think about the interventions that you use in your everyday life to deal with this behavior. Modify them to the parameters of your trip.
Secure identification system
There are a variety of methods on the market.
You can use an ID bracelet, clothing with identification markings, or non-permanent tattoos, and GPS high-tech systems, to name a few.
Safeguard your child and surroundings
Alert kits are available at some hotels.
If not available purchase a portable battery operated Motion Detector Alarm system to be placed on doors and windows in your cabin or hotel room.
Identify & Teach Safety Rules
Determine the safety rules you need to address with your child. Phrase rules regarding what your child should do and be sure to consider your child’s abilities and age.
The rules you identify will reflect where you are traveling.Teach your child safety rules, reinforce the rule on a regular basis. Look for teachable moments to reinforce safety rules so your child will know what to do in a real life setting.
Reinforce Safety Rules Using Interactive Activities
Our resource book provides interactive safety activities and games.
Refer to available resources
A resource such as ‘The Big Red Safety Tool Kit’ is an excellent resource for parents offered by the National Autism Association.
The FBI also provides a free app for parents for I-Phones and Android operating systems.
In your book, you mention theme parks sensory ratings; where can parents find them?
Many parks offer accessibility guides on their Web site outlining the special provisions and sensory ratings for rides and shows.
How would you encourage parents who have had a bad vacation experience to travel again?
It is important to identify the problematic issues before your next trip.
Our “Dry Run” chapter in our resource book offers strategies to address common travel concerns: Getting Ready for Vacation, Transportation, Vacation Expectations, Interacting with Others, and Staying Safe. The benefits of travel outweigh the downside.
The more practice your child has going places, the easier it will become.
Are there any plans to expand Starbrite; to videos or more books?
We are currently working on our third book, Starbrite Traveler: Destinations for Kids with Special Needs – West Coast Edition.
Jesemine Jones earned a Masters of Social Work from Rutgers University and holds a certificate as a Teacher of the Handicapped. She is currently a social worker in the New Jersey public school system.