5 Ways to Make the Holidays Easier for Children with Special Needs

The most wonderful time of the year brings with it family celebrations, school parties, and visits with holiday favorites like Santa Claus. While it’s an exciting time, it can also be overwhelming–especially if you have a child with special needs. The good news: The tips and strategies provided below can help ensure the holidays are memorable and merry for all.

1. Be predictable. Surprises and unforeseen events have the potential to send a child with special needs into disarray. One way to help avoid that problem? By creating calendars or visual schedules to help your child know what to expect that day. For example, if your family is getting together for a turkey dinner, include pictures of food and the family members you’ll be visiting. Apps like Choiceworks let you create visual schedules with activities planned for the day.

2. Avoid overstimulating sights, sounds, and smells. For children with sensory aversions, the holidays can be overwhelming. Between the flashing lights, loud holiday music, and perfume-scented sections of stores, it’s easy to see why. A few ways to help: Share photos of Santa and other holiday favorites before your child meets them; invest in a quality pair of headphones for your child; and designate a quiet place in your home where your child can go to decompress when needed.

3. Teach other children about your child. Why not give your friends and family an idea of what to expect if you’ll be visiting with them during the holidays? For example, consider sending a letter or email to those who have children, detailing a little bit about your child’s personality. Let them know if your child tends to ask a lot of questions, craves attention, or likes to hug. A little notice beforehand could avoid awkward situations and hurt feelings.

4. Buy suitable gifts. Amazon is chock-full of gifts designed for children with special needs, like these sensory water beads and foam puzzle blocks. You can also make it easier on loved ones if you send them a list of toys your child would enjoy, since buying for any child can be tricky enough.

5. Relax. At the end of the day, unexpected things may happen that are out of your control. If you can roll with the punches, though, your child will likely follow your lead.

With some advance planning, you might find you can shift your attention from meltdowns to what matters most–enjoying the holidays with the people you love.

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral, and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 18 states. Epic has three locations in Austin.