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If planning for another holiday season gives you heart palpitations rather than the warm and fuzzies, you may find helpful tips in this article.
Why the holidays may be a challenge for neurodivergent and disabled children
- Children with sensory sensitivities may find the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays too much to take in at once.
- Some children may find crowds (and the loud noises that come with them) overwhelming.
- Some children find a change in their daily routine and sleep schedule difficult to overcome.
- Introverted children or those who need support in interacting with others may find being in a large social group challenging.
Suggestions for celebrating the holidays in peace
- Prepare yourself. How realistic is it to spend several consecutive days surrounded by many people in many settings? Can the child handle all of that change in their routine? Can you? Set boundaries and follow through.
- Prepare others. Once you’ve decided on the most realistic way to celebrate the holidays, gently let others know. They might be disappointed at first, but you can use phrases such as: “We’ve decided that it will be too much for us to celebrate two consecutive days.”
Also, prepare others for things that may happen while you’re there and how they should react if they do. Mention it ahead of time, especially if this is the first time a child will meet this group of people.
Let them know what the child’s needs may be while visiting. Talk about all of the options: what will you bring, what do they already have handy?
Talk about how you handle specific situations and let them know about your time frame. You don’t want to rush a host/hostess, but let them know that you may have to make an exit if things get to be too much for the child. Letting them know ahead of time helps set the stage for that day with dignity for the child.
- Prepare the child. Let the child know where they are going and what they will do there. Prepare a visual schedule of the day for each day that will not be like their routine. Prepare the child for the actual holiday. What are theme words and sounds? Spend a few weeks using the vocabulary the child will encounter on that particular holiday. Don’t forget exclamations like “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Practice opening gifts with some tearing activities ahead of time. Practice the songs so the child can join in with others when holiday carols come around.
- Prepare the child’s belongings. Make a list of all the items the child will need while away from home. Remember things like equipment, food, medication, change of clothes, and a few of their favorite toys or books.
- Don’t go to the malls if you don’t have to. Contrary to what consumerism leads us to believe, the holidays are not about the malls. Shop online instead.
- Don’t force them to “socialize.” While being in a social setting is a great place to learn to interact with others, don’t push a child to play or talk to others if they don’t want to. Instead, help ease them into the situation by including them in their own way. This could mean just having them sit in with the group. Or, ask them about something they’ll have an answer for. Or, bring a game you know they’ll enjoy.
- Leave when time is up. Remember when you prepared yourself for the best and worst? Since everyone is aware, it’s ok to leave early.