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Holidays and Special Needs

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

How to enjoy the holidays for you and your special needs child!

It's coming upon that time of year again where our calendars are filled with holiday events and gatherings. While many families are trying to pack in all their favorite activities, lots of special needs parents are trying to hide from the chaos. Every child is different and therefore every situation needs to be examined from their point of view to be most successful. However, there are a few tips and tricks that have been known to work MAGIC during the holiday season to give your family a more positive outlook on making it fun for the whole family.

The Autism Treatment Center of America's blog gave the following list of tips to help navigate holiday gatherings: Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Remember to allow your child to take care of themselves. This is simply a reminder that your child has isms and other routines that help them cope with over-stimulation, transitions, and change. You may notice this happening more often during events, new people, and new places. This is their calming mechanism that helps them enjoy their time and cope. Don't take away but embrace their ability to care for their needs.

2. Offer more explanations. Remember that verbal or not, kids understand a lot more than they express. Explain what is happening, where they are going, what it will be like, and what they can take with them/do/etc to enjoy their time there.

3. Communicate with your family and friends. People tend to be loving and caring even when they don't understand all the needs of your child. Explain why they carry that elephant with them everywhere. Ask for a room that they can go to that may be quieter or calmer so they have breaks from the chaos. Make sure you bring food they enjoy or need for dietary restrictions so it isn't the responsibility of the host.

4. Celebrate your child. Remember to be grateful for everything new they are trying, for their patience, for following directions, for shaking Auntie's hand even though they don't like to be touched.... you get the idea. This is a social gathering that can be difficult and just showing up can be a lot for them so be thankful.

5. Avoid the "how the holidays are supposed to be" attitude. Just because you have an idea in your head doesn't mean it is going to go according to plan. This is an everyday occurrence for all parents, not just special needs. The more flexible you can be the more your child can be as well.

6. Avoid Rushing. Now more than ever is the time to give extra time! Plan for using a lot of patience and give yourself lots of wiggle room to allow your child the time needed to cope. When we start to rush our child feeds off this feeling which raises anxiety and can lead to meltdowns.

7. Don't compare your child to others. This one is really hard parents because we tend to do it often. It is more productive for you and your child to compare them only to themselves. Example: What was Griffin like last Christmas compared to now? Wow he is really handling going to stores this year. Utilize this in place of is he/she doing what their cousin who is close in age is doing.

Here are some other suggestions that we think you might enjoy as well:

Try going on a holiday light drive versus a crowded light display. This allows you to go check out some great neighborhoods and houses that are likely not as crowded and still enjoy the lights.

Visit smaller boutiques and stores versus overcrowded super centers and malls.

Visit a local nursery to find your tree instead of the big event type tree farms.

Schedule a time with a sensitive Santa versus waiting in the line at the mall.

Do some at home activities with a few friends or family on multiple evenings versus everyone being at a large gathering. You can do decorations, make cookies, play holiday music and your child has the comforts of home.

Last, but not least, remember your child during your planning. Do they have a nap time? is there specific foods and/or times when they are hunger? What are their favorite toys/motivators, did you pack them? what is a better day or time to fly during the holidays that is less crowded? Can my child handle a full day at the great grandparents or should our family schedule to be there a few hours and let everyone know?

These tips and questions help remind us as parents that not only is it important to include our child with special needs, we must also prepare and plan for them so that it is a more successful time for all of us.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season!

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