Everyone can get overwhelmed around the Holidays. Routines are disrupted, different or excessive foods might be in easy reach, and emotional triggers can come from many directions. Individuals with disabilities might be especially sensitive to those issues. This article provides a four-part planning guide to help families manage a change in routine, plan for outings, provide special care and travel with children who have special needs during the holiday season.
- Great Expectations
A schedule filled with events outside of a typical schedule may be disorienting to some children. Plan to follow a typical routine for some aspects of each day and discuss special events ahead of time so your child can feel prepared.
- Children nestled all snug in their beds
Maintain your child’s sleep schedule to the best of your ability. Consistent wake-up and bedtime schedules can help everyone’s level of calm.
- Three Bears Principle
Finding the “just-right” amount of holiday celebrating can be tricky. Don’t try to make it to all the holiday events. Choose wisely and feel free to decline invitations. A child who gets enough down time between events is more likely to enjoy the festivities.
- Special Santa Sack
If your child has sensory sensitivity, have a bag of toys and tools ready to go so you’ll have options if a shopping trip, holiday party or other event gets over-stimulating. Some children take comfort from earplugs for noisy situations, headphones for listening to favorite music, electronics, fidgets, blankets, or extra comfy clothes.
Have a bag ready to go with necessary medications, supplies, and equipment. You may want to pack extra for unexpected delays in your adventures. Sugary foods at holiday gatherings might impact planning for children who need diabetes care. You may choose to use an insulin pump to avoid multiple injections so your child can enjoy the holiday without feeling too different or overwhelmed.
- Visions of Sugarplums
Holiday meals or treats might be off limits to children with specific allergies or food sensitivities. You may need to pack some back-up snacks and treats that work well. Being prepared could prevent your child from feeling left out of the festivities. If your child has a severe allergy, remind family and guests ahead of time to practice extra caution. Kissing and hugging can be dangerous due to cross-contamination.
Handle with Care
- City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Silver bells, strings of streetlights and all the other hustle and bustle may overwhelm children with sensory sensitivities. You may want to consider an off-hour time to see Santa or simply avoid the most popular attractions and choose quieter activities to help your child enjoy the season.
- At Christmas, parents need a village
Don’t put all the pressure on yourself to make the holiday perfect. Ask for support from family, friends, doctors and therapists, and step back to let them do their parts to reinforce positive messages and expectations.
- Saying no can be nice
If a certain activity is simply too much for your child, you or other members of your family, it’s okay to say no! Choose what works best and toss the guilt if you need to decline an invitation.
- Something under the tree, for me
Whether you go shopping, head to the spa, soak in the tub or simply pause to take five long breaths, plan some self-care. Remember that when you put on your own oxygen mask first, you’ll be stronger and more prepared to help others.
- Thanks is a gift
Taking time to reflect on gratitude can help shift you away from feeling overwhelmed and toward feelings of peacefulness and grace. It’s ok if things don’t go as planned and it’s ok that your family is different. Your holiday might require a little extra planning and patience, but your child’s life is a gift that can be treasured for its unique specialness.
Not Home for Christmas?
If your holiday includes planes and trains, be sure to let agents and attendants know about your family member’s special accommodation needs. Here are a few contacts for Washington travelers:
Sea-Tac Airport (preflight preparations available): email firstname.lastname@example.org
Spokane Airport Administrative Offices: (509) 455-6455