While the holidays are an exciting time for some, they can be the most stressful time of the year for families with special needs. Changes in weather, Daylight Savings Time, family parties and holiday outfits can all be overwhelming for some kids with sensory issues and other special needs. But with proper planning and preparation, the holidays can be something your whole family can look forward to.
First you need to let go of your expectations and be flexible. Realistically, things could go completely off course of what you planned. Don’t let that ruin your holiday! One suggestion is to make a list of all your plans. Then cut the list in half! Many parents stress over trying to do everything. Let it go and focus more on what’s important to you and your family (sandiegofamily.com).
As mentioned in our Thanksgiving blog, planning is KEY. A calendar marked with the date(s) of events and using social stories or picture books are great ways to help your child know what to expect. For example, a photo album with pictures of last year’s celebrations or pictures of family members your child will meet at the parties will help prepare your child. Also when planning which holiday events to attend, don’t overbook. Depending on what you think your child can handle, maybe limit the festivities to only one event per holiday. This will help limit the stress on both you and your child (specialchildren.about.com). It also may be a good idea to forewarn friends and family of your child’s sensitivities so that they don’t get disappointed when your child refuses a hug.
Many people look forward to all the decorations around the holidays. But for some kids with special needs, all the new changes to the house can be disruptive. It may help to show them pictures of last year’s decorations or to bring them with your when shopping for decorations. Decorating over the course of a few days, rather than all at once can help your child adjust to all the changes (abilitypath.org). Also make sure to consider your child’s sensitivities when putting up lights, as they can be too much for your child.
Pack familiar items that will help comfort your child with transitions to a new place. Bring things like a favorite blanket or toy or your child’s favorite snacks to give to your child when him or her gets bored or anxious. Bringing a video game system or coloring book can help keep your child entertained for longer periods of time. Packing earplugs or headphones can help a child with noise sensitivities. To help your child get familiar with a new place, try bringing them to the house where the event will be. This way, it will limit the unfamiliarity and make them feel more confortable on the big day.
Opening presents can be difficult for some in many different ways. Some kids may have issues with fine-motor skills, which can make ripping open presents difficult. Try leaving everything unwrapped and display it ready for play (care.com). Surprises may not be as fun for some kids as they are to others. So sometimes wrapping an already familiar toy can be just as exciting as opening a new one. Maybe your child is only interested in the gift opening, and not the gifts. Call relatives ahead of time to see if they don’t mind letting your child open their gifts for them.
Always remember that the priority is your child’s comfort and safety. It’s not about the decorations or presents or food. It’s about making great memories with family, friends, and loved ones.
And from all of us at NAPA Center…