13 Summer Must-Haves for Special Needs Kids

Ivan in the pool

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Summer means long days at outdoor music festivals or carnivals, trips to the beach or maybe a day out picking plums and peaches at a local farm. Summer can be a trip to the zoo, a family picnic or a day spent at the water park.

For our family, summer means finally having the opportunity to get out of the house after being locked indoors all winter and getting the chance to feel the sun and play in the grass. It also often means being away from the house all day and that can be difficult when your child has significant special needs.

What do you pack? Do you have enough room? I mean, we’re only going to be out for one day do we really need all this stuff?

Below is my list of essentials (with some suggestions from friends as well) for must-haves for summer fun. You don’t want to over pack, but you don’t want to be unprepared for the unexpected either!

Keep Cool & Have Fun All Summer Long with These Must-Haves!

  1. Sunscreen: Yeah, I know, that one’s an easy one, but there is a lot more to buying sunscreen and staying safe in the sun than you might think! Check out this link for sun safety ideas and always keep extra sunscreen on hand. I like the sunscreen sticks because they are easy to keep in your purse.
  2. Ivan wearing his sunglassesSunglasses: Maybe another no brainer, but for kids with visual impairments this can be a really important one. Lots of kids who are blind have problems with photophobia and need special protection in the sun. Baby Banz makes glasses with wrap around bands. For older kids, Kids Bright Eyes sells Stay Puts that help keep glasses from falling off. One mom recommends bringing a few pairs of sunglasses on any outing “so they can be broken or lost and no one has to run out for new ones.”
  3. Misting Fan: These misting fans are fun ways to keep cool on a really hot day and if your child can hold the fan they can do the misting themselves. Try to find one with a simple button that is easy to push. You can also pick up a stroller fan while you’re at it and clip it to your child’s stroller or wheelchair.
  4. A Good Stroller: And speaking of strollers and wheelchairs, if you’re going to be out a lot this summer you’ll want to have a good stroller. There are many choices on the market for nice, supportive special needs strollers for kids of all ages. We have the Convaid Cruiser and absolutely love it! I highly recommend getting the Pneumatic Knobby Tires because they can handle varying terrain pretty easily. These strollers are expensive, so talk to your PT about getting it covered through your insurance.
  5. Stroller Canopy: Some strollers (like the Convaid Cruiser) come with canopies that fit the stroller, but many don’t. Universal stroller covers fit almost any stroller and offer a very wide area of shade. You can also use them on car seats if you need extra shade in the car.
  6. Ivan on his picnic blanketWaterproof Picnic Blanket: We take this blanket with us everywhere! It folds up really neat and has a strap and little pouch in front when folded. It’s a nice size when unfolded and it’s waterproof, so if the ground is a little wet it doesn’t matter! We’ve had ours for years and it’s still going strong. I’ve even thrown it in the washing machine when it gets dirty. I also love all the snazzy colors and designs.
  7. Carrying Bags: When you’ve got a lot to carry you need a big bag with lots of pockets. I’ve always loved the Skip Hop Diaper Bags because they are versatile and are available in such striking patterns. You’ll also want to get stroller clips so you can attach your bag right to your stroller or wheelchair and not have to carry it on your arm all day!
  8. Travel Potty Seat: Planning to be out all day? Got a kid who’s potty training? You’re going to want to bring that potty seat with you! We use the Baby Bjorn Toilet Trainer and keep it in a cloth bag with a zipper close so no one knows we’re carrying around a potty everywhere we go. Another mom suggests the Special Tomato Portable Potty Seat. She says, “it has its own little knapsack and is great for little bums or even bigger kids with balance issues. We’ve used it at restaurants, airports, etc.” Oh, and while you’re in that public bathroom you might want to have hand sanitizers in your bag too!
  9. sunglasses and headphones, rocking out!Headphones: Many special needs kids with sensory issues don’t like the sound of loud music or lots of people talking all at once. These earmuffs mute some of the sound and make gatherings easier for kids to manage. One mom says, “These are the only way for us to make it through noisy festivals and restaurants.”
  10. Water Shoes: Planning a day at the beach? Water shoes can help kids with sensitive feet handle the sensory overload of sand between their toes. One mom says her son “will spend an entire day on the beach as long as he has his water shoes. The moment his feet hit the sand and water without them it’s almost a guaranteed meltdown.”
  11. Boogie Board: While you’re at the beach, bring along your boogie board! It can be tough to move kids around in the sand if they are in strollers or wheelchairs, but a boogie board can be a simple solution. One mom says that they put her daughter on their board “and drag her across the sand. She loves it and we don’t break our back trying to carry her or drag a stroller through sand!” Some state beaches also provide floating beach wheelchairs. If you’re in Massachusetts check out SMILE Mass for details.
  12. Bungee Chair: It can be a good idea to bring along a chair for your child if you’ll be at the beach or an outdoor festival, so why not bring a chair that can also provide some sensory input? These bungee chairs are bouncy and comfortable and also fold up easily. One mom says, “I occasionally bring this on outings as my son’s beach chair. It provides a ton of sensory input and is portable so it gives us more time at places without needing to leave because he’s is in sensory overload.”
  13. 24-Hour Cold Bottle: My son needs to drink thickened liquids in order to prevent aspiration, which means wherever we go we need to bring his drink with us. We love this 26 ounce bottle from Yeti that keeps cold fluids cold for up to 24 hours! It’s been a lifesaver on long outdoor trips.

So get packed and get moving! What are you waiting for? It’s a beautiful day outside!

13 Summer Must-Haves for Special Needs Kids

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