Handling Challenges of the Holiday Season

The holidays are a busy time of year, full of activities that can easily over stimulate children, especially those with special needs.  The lights, sounds, smells along with the general chaos of the holidays can be extremely challenging.  Without a routine to follow, anxiety can increase as well as disregulation.  Structuring your child’s day is very important during the holiday season.  Below are a few tips to help your family enjoy the holiday season…

Gradually Introduce the Holiday

If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to gradually decorate the house.  For example, on the first day put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day decorate the tree and so on.  Be sure to encourage your child to participate as much as possible. It may be helpful to develop a visual schedule or calendar that shows what will be done on each day.

Be Flexible

Relax your expectations of what a fun experience should be like for your child and always have a back-up plan.  Each individual’s tolerance level will be different and they will each take something different away from the experience.

Plan Ahead and Don’t Overbook

Plan one event per day.  Don’t hop from house to house, or plan a big outing the night before or after a family event. Give your child (and yourself) the maximum amount of time to de-stress and relax after a family party or outing. This may be a disappointment to friends and family members who want you present at their event; however, you know best!  It’s better to have one successful outing than three or four miserable ones.

Establish Warm Up Times and Personal Space Parameters

Don’t shield your child from extended family members. Family members need to understand the challenges you face.  When visiting family, it is important to give your child time to warm up and adapt to their surrounding. Try not to overwhelm your child by pressuring them to interact with others right away.  Give your child time to get acquainted with their surroundings.  In addition, make sure there is a quiet, calm place for your child to retreat if they would like to step away for a moment.

Supplement the Menu

Contact the host prior to the holiday to discuss the menu.  If the host is not making a dish that your child will enjoy, don’t be afraid to bring something from your own home.  The goal of the day isn’t trying new foods or pleasing the cook, it’s having a meal that is pleasant for all. And, more importantly, it’s about enjoying the good things in our lives.

Practice Receiving and Opening Gifts

One of the unwritten rules of receiving a gift is to act appreciative, whether or not you actually like it; however, children with special needs may not be as adept as delivering a polite response to an unwanted gift. Be sure to explain to relatives not to take it personally if they get a negative response to a gift they gave your child.

Additionally, practice opening gifts prior to the holiday.  Take toys and other gifts out of the box before wrapping them. It is more fun and less frustrating for a child when a gift can be opened and played with immediately.

Have Patience When Taking Photographs

Photographing any child relies on patience and a little luck, but this is even more so with children with special needs. Allot sufficient time to get “the shot.” Don’t wait until the last minute to take a photograph for your holiday card.  By starting early you can reduce stress and try again if you need to.  Pick a place that is familiar to your child and be sure to sign up for a time that is earlier in the day.


Autism Speaks Holiday Tips


Tips for Taking Photos


Sensitive Santa

Sunday, December 8, 2013

*10am to Noon – 1pm to 3pm*

Therapeutic RecreationActivityCenter at Park Commission Headquarters

355 Milltown Road

Bridgewater, New Jersey

Reservations: (908) 526-5650


Sunday, December 15, 2013

*10am to 7pm*

Nicky B’s Café & Pizzeria

1020 Belmont Avenue

South Plainfield, New Jersey

(908) 834-2992