Coronavirus: information and updates

Feeling comfortable in public with your disabled child

Going out in public, on the bus or to the shops can sometimes be hard for you as a parent of a disabled child or young adult. Here are some ideas on how to cope with people who do not understand what your child needs, or react in a negative way.

Going out with your child during coronavirus

Children under 11 do not have to wear a mask. Everyone over 11 should wear a mask in specific places, like in shops and on public transport.

But there are exemptions. For example, your child may not have to wear a mask if they cannot physically wear it or wearing it would cause severe distress.

When you do not have to wear a face mask (GOV.UK)

If you’re worried about what other people might say or do, you can use ‘exemption cards’ to explain that your child cannot wear a mask. You can have it on your phone or print it.

Exemption cards and badges (GOV.UK)

You could also try getting a sunflower lanyard. This tells shop employees and other people that your child has an invisible condition or impairment. You can get them free at supermarkets, including Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Tesco and Morrisons. You can also buy them for under £1 on the Hidden Disabilities website.

Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyard

You do not have to use these tools to explain why your child is exempt. They are just things you could try if you’re struggling with negative attitudes because of coronavirus.

People who react in a negative way

People can behave in a way that’s hurtful to you and your child. This can make it harder to keep your child safe and happy when you go out.

It’s fine not to respond if you’re too tired or they’re being hostile. If someone is staring, make eye contact and smile. Or try talking to them about your child, but only if you’re comfortable doing this.

“I can understand kids staring. Sometimes I chat with them and answer their questions and they are very accepting and kind. Adults can be ignorant, rude and downright nasty. When I'm out with my little girl I tend to say 'Yes, she's beautiful, isn't she?' and that usually works.”

Meeting other parents can help

Going to support groups for parents with disabled children can help you to:

  • hear stories and get tips from people who have had similar experiences
  • understand that lots of parents feel the same way
  • talk about how it feels to go out in public.

Support groups for parents 

Scope’s online community

Handing out cards explaining your child’s condition

If you’re going to be in a situation where your child might react, you could hand out printed cards describing:

  • your child’s condition
  • what they need

“After chatting with Harry about what to do, we came up with the idea of a set of small cards designed just for him, about him. Each card would have a question and a simple answer to that question.”

Planning before you go out

Every child will need different things when they go out. You know your child best, but here are some things other parents have found useful.

Making a timetable

Explain which shops you’re going to and when. Including photos of the places you’re going can also help.

If you use a visual timetable but cannot take it out with you, take a photo of it on your phone.

Giving your child a role

You could give your child their own shopping list and ask them to find certain items.

Calling ahead

When you are going to places like the hairdressers, dentists, doctors, restaurants or airports, tell them what your child needs and work together. Be prepared and let them prepare too. They may have specific times when they are more accessible to disabled children. For example things like ‘autism-friendly’ hours.

Some supermarkets have GoTo Shop trolleys with 5-point harnesses and padded seats with extra support. Call ahead to find out if they will be available.

GoTo Shop trolleys

If clothes shopping is hard, you could ask the manager if they'll open 15 minutes early so you can try things on without people watching. 


  • You could check if there’s a Changing Places toilet nearby. These include toilets with space either side for carers, a hoist, and an adjustable adult-sized bed changing bench.
  • A Radar key will save you from queuing at public toilets. Locked toilets are often cleaner and bigger. Keys cost a few pounds and are also available from town halls and tourist information centres.
  • A plastic tablecloth or an exercise mat can both be good value changing mats when your child gets older.

Changing Places toilet map

Radar key (Disability Rights UK)

Preparing for queues

If you’re worried that your child might ‘kick off’ in a queue, ask the person managing the queue if there’s somewhere you could wait. If you feel comfortable, ask those at the front of the queue if you could join them and explain why.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 18/12/2020

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