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How to Keep the Holidays Happy for Your Child with Special Needs

As a parent of a child with special needs, the holiday season can feel like one big chaotic disaster. Between socializing during Thanksgiving and of course the countless festivities associated with Hanukkah, Christmas, Ramadan and other holidays, there are a lot of big events where kids are expected to be on their best behavior. Not to mention the bright lights, unfamiliar smells, loud sounds and constricting expectations—it all can be overwhelming for a child with Autism or other development disabilities.

And even though a ton of preparation doesn’t guarantee that your child won’t melt down, it can absolutely help it many ways. Here are some tips for assisting your child with special needs plot a course to a little more joy.

  1. Maintain Routines

It’s understandable that schedules will be changed or forgotten altogether during the holidays. Many children with sensory issues or Autism struggle with modifications to their routine. Try to maintain some of your core activities as much as possible to help your child.

  1. Create a Safe Space

Whenever you visit a different house than your own, establish a “safe zone” for your child so that she can retreat and be alone, if desired. And, find ways to reduce the stress – for both yourself as well as your child. Arrange quiet time and create places in your own home where she can have a moment away from the commotion. Remember, your child will pick up on your stress levels, so try not to over-stretch yourself.

  1. Make Time Just for Your Child

It’s easy to get overloaded with holiday preparations at this time of year, so plan regular activities to make some special time for your children.  Even ten minutes of undivided attention makes a difference every day. Let your child take the lead, tune into their world, and see it through their eyes.

  1. Ask for Support

Find at least one person who is willing to help you during the gathering. He can assist you in creating a special space for your child if she needs alone time, and can engage with your child while you visit and eat.

  1. Make Opening Presents Easy

For children who battle with fine motor skills, diminish frustration by modifying presents and gift cards. Undo ribbons, unseal envelopes, and remove tape so your child can feel successful opening gifts. He’ll also have a sense of satisfaction over the ability to complete tasks.

  1. Manage New Smells

Add holiday spices, like cinnamon or nutmeg, to your child’s play-dough to gradually introduce new smells. One thing that kids with Autism are sensitive to during the holidays is the many different scents coming from visiting adults. Ask your family to refrain from using perfume or strong cologne.

  1. Prep Your Family

Discuss these challenges with family members ahead of time. Tell them about your child’s specific needs, and gently but firmly inform them what your plans are. Be sure to let them know that this will make the whole experience better for everyone.

If you feel overwhelmed and you need help, please contact us.

American Disability Association is dedicated to the wellbeing and protection of children with disabilities and actively provides support to enhance their quality of life. Whether you are dealing with federal or state benefits or struggling with a school district to get proper education for your child, we have the resources to help you. Many individuals and families managing a disability are not aware of the wide array of services available to them, or they do not know how to apply for these benefits in a way that is likely to succeed.

Contact us for help. Dial (888) 323-2133 or email us at [email protected]