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Special Needs Car Seat

special needs car seats

Children with special needs often need special car seats to be safe when being transported.

It can be a challenge to find the right fit based on various physical or behavioral challenges each child experiences.

special needs car seats

Behavioral challenges

Many children with special needs exhibit disruptive behaviors as part of their disability. Some of these children have a propensity to unbuckle, their restraints. They may require a special harness or vest to keep them secure. Children with autism, for example, can be compulsive and have challenges with hyperactivity. Proper restraint is important because these children often don’t understand the danger of roaming around the vehicle.

Parents should not try to modify the child’s current seat as it may take away from the crash tested safety of that seat. Rather they should search for a child restraint with different type of buckle or clips that are more difficult for the child to unbuckle like two-handed chest clip release.

Some parents find the RideSafer a solution as the buckle is different than other restraints. Other children will need to go so far as to have restraints which have the closures in the back like the Ez-On harness.

Physical challenges

RideSafer best travel car seat

Children with special needs also have physical challenges which we need to work around with their child restraints. For example, some children with autism have sensory issues and prefer a tight fit to a lighter touch of straps. Again many parents say the RideSafer vest, made of soft fabric and padding, is like a hug or the weighted vest some of these children use.

Other children may have poor motor control and need the restraint to help them sit in proper position and stay in place. Sometimes children have GI tubes that need to be accommodated. Some children may have a temporary special need because of a arm or leg cast.

Availability of Special Needs Car Seats

Whenever possible we want to keep them in a conventional 5-point harness as they are more reasonably priced and accessible. We also recommend keeping a child with special needs rear facing for as long as possible.

However, some needs require specialized seats. In general, specialized or adaptive special needs car seats are designed specifically for children with special health care needs. Most are not available at retail stores but can be purchased through a therapist or medical device company.

Many of these special needs car seats can be very expensive ranging from several hundred to even thousands of dollars.

  • RideSafer Travel Vest, $165-$229. Comes in four sizes. When used with tether strap, offers additional support and restraint. Parents find it useful for many special needs at a reasonable price. Many parents report their escapee child finally staying restrained. Others report their child found a way out. Can be purchased from a retailer. But some children will need more support or a restraint that is more difficult to get themselves out of.
  • EZ-On Vest, call a distributor for prices. Comes in various styles, including one with a back closure for those escapee children who can get out of everything else.
  • Merritt, call for dealer prices. This manufacturer offers a line of child restraints from the Hope Car Bed for infants to the Chamberlain which goes up to 225 lbs. Some seats can come with escape prevention accessories like the chest clip guard, buckle cover and A-lok cover available for the Roosevelt seat.
  • Inspired by Drive, $1643-$4345. This manufacturer has four car seat options with various features and with different weight limits. “Medication-bottle” style locks for chest clip and buckle guards.
  • Wallaroo, $900. A forward-facing car seat provides support with a variety of optional accessories for those that need extra positioning in a vehicle with an upper weight limit of 106 lbs.
  • Columbia Spirit, $1500. A forward-facing restraint for children with special needs that are unable to sit upright without support with an upper weight limit of 130 lbs.
  • Carrot 3 Car Seat, $2150. A forward-facing restraint that provides optimal positioning for insufficient head, trunk, and pelvic stability with height and depth adjustability as the child grows. Has a weight range from 30 to 108 lbs.
  • Carrot 3 Booster, $2750. Engineered to provide optimal positioning for children with insufficient head, trunk, and pelvic stability. A comprehensive seat for children, teens and small adults. Has a weight range from 79 to 165 lbs.

Some special needs car seats may be covered under insurance with sufficient documentation. But they are not always covered. Some you may be able to rent if it’s only needed for a short term basis like to accommodate a hip cast.

Read our blog about planning for future care of a child with special needs.

An accessible car seat solution for parents of Children with Special Needs

Keep your kids Safe and Comfortable with the RideSafer Travel Vest. Even children with special needs are fans of this wearable wonder!

special needs car seat

Our son hates his car seat…always has. He has spent the last 6 years screaming every time we went anywhere, no matter how far away. He has cerebral palsy and needs a little help for his trunk support. This vest is fabulous. He loves riding in the car now. It was a night and day difference immediately. His comfort level is perfect now. I also feel that he is a lot safer since the vest holds him securely, better than the straps/buckles on the car seats.

Esther Lockerby, mother

Our son has a sensory processing disorder, which is frequently part of autism (considered a spectrum disorder). He has problems with certain stimuli as well as huge struggles when things change. We were worried about the vest, but let him pick it and got him used to the idea until it came. Now it’s hard to get him to take it off. He loves it. I think the snug fit helps (sort of working like weighted blankets). He also likes the routine – we do the Velcro, he does the buckle. He buckles himself into the car without struggling with the bulky car seat as we have a narrow car and 3 kids in car seats, and that gives him control and independence – something he struggles with. We also feel like he’s a lot safer now because he tended to slump over and fall asleep in his booster and for some reason with the vest, he stays upright when he falls asleep. It is working great for him.

a parent in Everett, WA

Additional tips to remember

1 – If you can, have an adult ride next to the child to help remind them to stay seated properly or attend to any needs.
2 – If you have an escapee, pull the car over to get your child restrained again.
3 – Reward good behavior.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2020 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in October 2017. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


  1. Can the RideSafer be used with a car seat? I am working with a little girl who has broken a houdini strap!! Slips her arms out of the straps and stands up. Can you help?

  2. Help…. my toddler unbuckes his carseat ..last time was rush hour on the kiddo is a twin with sensory processing disorder and autism speech delay and seizures. My little guy shakes super uncomfortable and screams,crys anytime we are in the car especially when he’s in the car seat. First i thought it could be the carseat but continues happening even after i bought new carseats for my guys..please any advice would be greatly appreciated and welcoming..And if my little guy requires a special carseat would insurance cover/full or half of the cost..discounts,promo codes, giveaways, donations,coupons ..thank you .Twin mommy

    1. Hi Laura, That must be super stressful. Insurance will often cover the cost of special car seats. I’m not sure if it’s more likely if it’s prescribed by a doctor or not. We’re not often involved in that process. To many kids, the RideSafer feels like a weighted vest so it’s accepted as a restraint. It sounds like your kiddo is still young, perhaps too young for a RideSafer (starts at age 3). Merritt has several options for children with special needs.

    1. Hi Cheryl, The manufacturer specs say 38″ but we’ve found that some kids don’t fit to that size. The manufacturer is supposed to be releasing a waist extender piece and an XL vest. We do not have a set release date yet.

    1. Hi Jennifer, The large RideSafer has an upper weight limit of 80 pounds when used with a lap-only seat belt and dual tether. Now if a child is more than 80 pounds and the vest still fits, it’s OK to use still with a lap-shoulder belt since the seat belt is doing the restraint.

      We’ve been told the manufacturer is expected to release an XL size. We understand there will just be a small number of XL at first to see how well they sell. The manufacturer says they should be here in the next month or so.

      If you aren’t already, sign up for our newsletter as we will announce when they are available. Or follow us on Facebook.

  3. My 8 yr old autistic little boy will not go in a car seat anymore. He has been riding using the lap/shoulder seat belt and most the time has been ok and well behaved. However when he is in a rambunctious mood he has been getting out of the seat belt and moving about the vehicle. Will this product physically restrain him so that he cannot get out of the seat belt when he is in one of those moods ?

    1. It really depends on the child.

      For many parents, the RideSafer is a “god-send” that finally keeps their child restrained properly. The buckle on the vest is meant to be “Houdini-proof” which has frustrated many a parent. But in all honesty some people, including some escapee children find it easy to unbuckle. (It is easier to unbuckle if the strap is at all loose so keeping it tight helps.) Even with a child who is not able to unbuckle, there are some escapees who find very creative ways out of the vest.

      We would also recommend a Buckle Boss Buckle Guard to keep the child from unbuckling the seat belt.

      We do offer a 15-day return policy for trying the vest to see if it will work for you. Just save the packaging in case it doesn’t and you need to send it back.

  4. My son is 6 with autism, non verbal. He pushes his chest clip down and pulls his arms thru but can’t unbuckle the crotch button. He also unbuckles the seat belt. I noticed this car seat uses the seat belt. Can he still access the seat belt buckle in this harness? Or do you sell something to stop him from being able to do that?

  5. My fiance’s daughter down syndrome is very bright. Shes 14 y/o, aprox 85 Lbs. She manages to squeeze out from her vehicle standard 3 point shoulder strap and reaches over to grab her moms right arm, shoulder or hair whe she is driving.

    1. An XL RideSafer vest with a tether strap may help keep her better restrained and from being able to reach over to grab mom. We should have them back in stock later in February or early March.

  6. I have a special needs child who knows how to unbuckle the front strap of her car seat I have given her toys to play with the keep her distracted and as come to an issue I had asked to school what I can do to find a car seat or booster seat for her to sit at I get my car seat from Walmart but sometimes I don’t know which one to choose so I would like some information on how to find a better car seat it is safe for my child

    1. Choosing a seat is very dependent on a lot of factors including your child and your car. If your child is unbuckling the front strap, it may be that no seat purchased from Walmart will be appropriate as many front buckles are the same type of buckle. Depending on the size and needs of your child, there are special needs specific car seats that may be required to keep your child properly restrained. RideSafer is not specifically made for special needs children but many parents have found it has worked well for their child with special needs. Others include a EZ-On Harness and car seats by Merritt Manufacturing. I recommend finding a Child Passenger Safety Technician near you who you can meet with to help you find the best solution for your child. There are some that specialize in special needs.

    1. The straps are thick for a seat belt cutter because they have padding. What would work best in an emergency is to use a seat belt cutter to cut the seat belt and leave it in the RideSafer guides to remove the child quickly.

    1. The RideSafer manufacturer recently added a XL size that goes from 80 to 110 pounds specifically to fill a need of larger children with special needs. We should have them back in stock this week.

  7. My special needs son has CP. I am looking for a device that will help keep his pevis backnin the sear. He has a lot of tone and line to slouch. Will this device help to keep his pelvis back against the seat?

    1. Keep his Pelvis back in the seat**** sorry. I really should proof read‍♀️

      Likes to slouch***‍♀️

    2. If you lock the seat belt and use the tether it should help him keep his bottom against the seat and sitting up properly.

    1. We do ship to internationally.

      We have a real time shipping calculator set up on our website so the best way to get the most accurate shipping cost is to enter your product into the cart and enter your full shipping address. Then on the shipping page you can see the different timing and pricing options.

      Please review our international shipping information here.

    1. Unfortunately, RideSafer is not yet FAA approved for use on aircraft.

      FAA says it doesn’t fit into their categories so they have to rewrite some policies before the RideSafer can be approved. We have no idea how long that may take. The manufacturer may request an exemption in the meantime but even that could take several months. We do know it is high on his list of priorities to keeping pushing for airline use and he has a team of engineers working on it.

      Once approved an accessory piece will be released. This piece will wrap the airline seat, providing the upper body restraint.

  8. I know you’ve said above to no carseat. Do you mean it also can’t be used with a booster seat? Some people think they are the same thing so I would like clarification


    1. The RideSafer cannot be used with a highback booster. If you want additional lift, the RideSafer manufacturer has the Delighter Booster which has been crash tested with the current and previous model RideSafer vests.

      Technically, using the RideSafer with another manufacturer’s booster seat would be using both products outside of their respective manufacturer’s specifications because they were not crash tested together.

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