These holidays my family and I are embarking on a road trip. Three children in the backseat means that thinking of ideas to help us survive really enjoy each other’s close company is front of my mind. Here’s an inside look at how I’m approaching it with my Occupational Therapist’s (OT) hat on.


When designing an approach to assist a child, an OT is trained to consider and assess three key factors:

  • The individual person – physical skills, sensory processing, thinking skills, social skills, personality, interests and beliefs
  • The activity, task or role – the task being asked of the individual
  • The environment – the people, place, culture and expectations that the individual will come into contact with during the activity or task.


Here’s what planning may look like for a child who will be sitting with their siblings in the backseat of a car for a 12 hour drive.

Individual Task Environment

Very noise sensitive

Doesn’t like others in her personal space

Can hit out and get aggressive if others get in her space or are noisy

Likes to chew on things

Happy to sit still for a long time

Likes reading and can read in the car without getting carsick

Believes that a car trip with her siblings is going to be painful

Can’t fall asleep in the car

Being a passenger in a car for 12 hours Air-conditioned 5 seater car

Child and her 2 younger siblings sitting in backseat.

Parents in front seats

Access to car stereo, as well as headphones and her own iPod.

Travelling during the day

Siblings very active and in the past have had difficulty keeping to their own space in the car

Parents will be upset by siblings fighting and being noisy if oldest child becomes aggressive

Parents very motivated to support the oldest child and help her cope

SUPPORTS : An individualised troubleshooting guide with the child to both prevent and manage stressors in the car.
Individual Task Environment
Make sure child has packed a bag with sensory supports

  • Headphones
  • iPod with audiobooks of interest downloaded as well as favourite music.
  • Books to read
  • Own cold water bottle and snacks including chewing gum or lollipops (as sucking and chewing regulate respiration which helps keep the body calmer)

Decide on a communication plan with parents if getting overwhelmed by anything like her siblings or noise –  a key word, communication card or conversation with parents could be used and the plan could be to pull over at the nearest rest stop, or that her parents intervene with the other children

Break the trip down into sections

Photocopy or print the map for the child so she knows her location, how far along the route she is and how long there is to go before the next stop

Provide information about stops and destination to help positive and excited feelings – providing pictures of landmarks or destinations can help a child who is overwhelmed when their language and reasoning brain functions are harder for them to access

Plan overnight stops carefully to accommodate some extra space and time away from siblings, for example taking a walk with Mum in the evening or sleeping in a separate section of the tent or hotel room

Parents plan route and refreshment stops ahead of time, including considering where toilets will be located

Parents think through a game plan for maintaining a fun and excited atmosphere for both themselves and the children – how to manage their own emotions as well as tools to keep themselves and their other children happy: for example,  give each child some spending money to choose a snack at each rest break

Nurture an environment of adventure, play family games and create family traditions

Consider playing car games

Play an audiobook for the whole family – recommendations include: The Wizard of Oz, How to Train Your Dragon, Anne of Green Gables, The Enchanted Forest and The Faraway Tree.

Provide tasks and personal support to all three children

Consider making the environment more comfortable with each child’s pillow or favourite toy


Here’s to your safe and happy travels!


Next Steps

We hope these strategies help with managing long car trips this summer but if you decide you would like to look further into the sensory needs of your child or if you would like to find out more about what can be done to help feel free to make contact.

To see what times one of our OT’s would be available to talk you can view our locations and availability or if you would prefer to talk to us on the phone you can call us on (07) 5578 2000.