You may read this with excitement, pleasure, or a need to look at your datebook and gift list! So much to do! So much fun and activity – sometimes too much fun and activity for everyone to comfortably manage. Changes in routine, food, and family can be overstimulating for any of us, including a child with special needs or sensory issues. And, then there is that wish to have everything come out “just right” – just once! Lets take a breather …
Success is 90% Preparation: What are some ways we can prepare children with special needs for the upcoming holiday season?
Create a Holiday Season Calendar : Talking about what the holiday plans are, where you will go, who you will see and what the experience will “look like” is important. Having a pictorial reference, such as a weekly calendar with pictures of the activities you will be doing will be a good reference and a way to review schedules and plans. Have some photos of holiday activities that you will be doing, or review photos from last year. You may already have an actual or digital scrapbook from prior holidays and these are a great reference for getting ready for this year.
Talk to Family: Communicate with your family members ahead of time, if they do not know your usual routines or needs. Explain any special needs or supports your child will need (Examples: We always sing a song before dinner. My daughter doesn’t like to be hugged or is afraid of loud movies). If visitors may bring gifts, let them know if there are food allergies or sensitivities, such as a sensitivity to perfume. If you are visiting family or friends, have your child bring a bag of items they find soothing or familiar (stuffed animal, games, toys or books), and help them find a quiet spot, if things get too noisy or busy. Have some familiar music to listen to and some favorite, comfortable clothes to change into.
Maintain Some Routine: it’s important to keep to at least part of your usual routine, as this is soothing and predictable. With all the new activities, schedule some of the usual activities you and your child enjoy together, such as 30 minutes of alone time with you or watching their special show.
Let Your Child Participate: Have your child help decorate, so they can be part of the changes in their environment. Limit twinkling lights, loud music and decorations that make noise. It’s also helpful to assign a job, such as handing out napkins or taking coats to feel part of party festivities.
Relax!: And, for ALL of us – Let’s remember to take a breath, literally – get some fresh air. Take a walk. Work out by practicing yoga, stretching or meditation. Remember to make time for your own partner and friends. Attend a faith program (if that is an important to you). Read some of your new book or even just take a nap. Let’s be prepared, be flexible, keep our sense of humor, and reach out for a hand to help with holiday events or a hand to hold, if things get stressful.
Have a healthy and fun holiday season this year!
by Dr. Allison Weideman, school psychologist