Surviving the Holidays: Tips for Children with Special Needs

By AASLDecember 2, 2019

As parents of children with special needs, we have a lot on our plates and worrying about the holidays on top of it can feel stressful. Don’t fret though! With just a bit of planning, holiday festivities can run more smoothly and help your child with special needs enjoy the season! Here are some tips to help!

1. Reduce The Stress.

Schedule in quiet times and create chill-out zones in your home. Yes, you heard correctly…put quiet time into your child’s calendar and treat it as an appointment. If not, all sorts of tasks, to-dos, and chaos will take over and quiet time will be hard to come by. The point here is stress reduction.

Holidays bring about new situations, people and places, as well as deviations from the regular routine. This can be overwhelming to a child with special needs. Try to find ways to reduce the stress on your child and on yourself (especially since children will be able to sense if you are extra stressed, too).

2. Introduce your child to friends or family members you’ll be spending holidays with.

If you take care of new introductions or reintroductions before the actual holiday, you can avoid a lot of stress. When your child sees these people in person and sees familiar faces rather than strangers, he’s less likely to be as anxious during the holiday festivities. If these loved ones live in town, try scheduling a quick visit with one or two of them at a time before the holidays.

If they don’t live in town, try video chatting, so your child can get used to the new faces and voices. Give your loved ones a heads up on why you’re doing this and give them tips to help them have a successful interaction with your child. (E.g. If your child doesn’t like loud voices, ask your family to keep their voices low on the video chat or in person. If he loves horses or legos, tell them to ask him about those topics when they meet. This will give your child a greater chance of comfort with that person and will help reduce unexpected worries later.)

3. Prepare with pictures.

Show your child pictures of the people she will meet and homes and places she will visit, to prepare her for the holidays. If she’s already video chatted with people, great! If not, pictures can be a good second option. Tell stories about the family members and friends she’ll see like you’re reading a book. This will capture her interest. Social media is a great tool to help your child get acquainted with new visitors. (E.g. If your child has a cousin Jamie who’s a gymnast, tell him about Jamie and find some videos on Instagram of Jamie doing gymnastics. Talk him through who Jamie is and what she does.)

Pictures of places can help too. If your child has trouble adjusting to new places, ask your family or friends whom you’ll be visiting to send pictures of their homes, so your child can familiarize herself with the places she will visit.

4. Bring a food dish that your child is used to and likes.

Just like new people can be intimidating, new food can be overwhelming too. If your child has strong food preferences or aversions, bring his favorite foods to the holiday dinner. If there’s a dish you can make that your child likes and others will like too, make enough for everyone and keep a portion of it aside for your child. This can also help avoid possible inquiries about why your child is eating different food than everyone else.

5. Ask For Help.

Friends and family may not know how to help you. Spell it out. Remember, you live with your child every day, so raising her is second nature to you. Those who aren’t around her daily, are not (by no fault of their own) “in the know.” Don’t take anything for granted and be sure to give them as much information as possible about how they can help. Even a list may be beneficial to reference!

If you feel funny doing this because you feel like you’re making demands, it doesn’t have to feel that way. How you present the request can change it from a demand to a friendly plea for help…and there aren’t many people who wouldn’t respond to a plea for help from a friend or relative. (E.g. Instead of, “I need you to put your dogs in another room when Aiden comes over,” try “I’m a worried about Aiden. He’s so afraid of dogs. Would you be able to help me by putting the dogs in another room?). You get the idea!

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