Preparing for the Special Holiday Season!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that is, until…

Your son or daughter doesn’t feel like being hugged by their grandparents or relatives and has a meltdown. Or until your child gets overwhelmed with all the new people, sounds, aromas, around him or her. Or until he or she is out of his or her daily routine. So we asked, “What can we do to make the holidays as has happy as possible for our children?” We talked with parents about things that have made it possible for them to prepare to have a safe and happy holiday.

These are some of the things they shared with us:

Routines/Schedule events –

Use Google apps to share activities you plan with your kids. There are many applications (if you want to go that route) that can help kids know what is going to happen during the day. For those of us that are less technical, a calendar will do just as well.  Using something visual to show children what activities will happen during this period of time may help diminish the lack of control some children feel when moving from one activity to the next.

Make these teachable moments. For example, if activities happen outside, you can ask your child to make a list of the things he or she will need.

One of the things I hear from parents of children that don’t like their routines changed, is to try to keep their night time routine, especially bedtime, as unchanged as possible.

Expectations – This is a biggie, especially for those of us that want to do what our parents used to do when we were little or are chasing that perfect the Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas picture.

We need to make sure we are realistic about what we can do and how much we can do. Some of us would love to have a real tree in our homes, but just the introduction of a new fragrance may be too much for some of our kids.

Then there are family expectations, know what is flexible and what is a deal breaker, and talk it over with your spouse or partner. There may be a time when you need them to back you up (or even take the lead) in cancelling plans that you had with your relatives.  Let your partner know where you will need support, what kind of support your need, and likewise, where they need your support and on what occasions.

Suggested gift lists – One of the worst feelings in the world is to watch your little one open a toy that you know they will not be able to play with. Having said that, even worse is when you see your child struggle to open a gift and try to put it together when you know they cannot do it. So, how can you prevent this from happening?

Well, be honest. Be honest with yourself, your friends, and your relatives. Make a list of the things your kids would like and share it with those who have asked.

Consult catalogs, therapists, teachers, and even the Differently-Abled Toy Guide from Toys R Us  to find things you may be able to suggest for your kid.

Pre-prepare for gift opening – Just like before, preparation is key.

I heard from a mom who said that she would open the gifts she was going to give to her child with Cerebral Palsy so she would not have to fidget with trying to open the box and put the toy together. She and her husband would preassemble all the gifts so that her girl could just go right into enjoying the gift. She shared that it also helped to make sure they had batteries for the toys.

Another mom said that Christmas lasted for two days in her house because her child did not want to open the presents, so the family took their time and opened one gift at a time, taking pictures and enjoying the extended gift opening.

Mother helper/Santa’s Elf – A mom we talked to shared that she hired a mother’s helper to be with her son at any activity she had at her home. This person would be there to pay attention to her son, make sure he had food, was comfortable, and that he had the things he needed while they had company.

Escape plan– Some of our kids can handle crowds and gatherings for a little bit of time, others for a longer time. You could think about giving them a code word or a code card that they can give you when they feel that they are becoming overwhelmed with the people or activities that are around them. Assure them that you will respond right away. This can help reduce their anxiety and give them some control over the situation.

Tell your story – “About my kids with special needs that will visit your home.” Most of us would not go where our kids are not welcomed or to a place that is new for them. However, this might happen during the holidays when we visit relatives our children hardly ever see and vice versa.

This may be a good time to introduce this family to your child and the disability that affects them, how it makes them different and yet the same as other children.

Garner their support so you can all enjoy the company and the time together without having to walk on eggshells.

Elopers and escapers – One of the moms we talked to is always concerned with making sure the host is aware that her girl with Down syndrome loves to escape. “They are really faster than you know, especially when we combine grownups and kids, they can slip through the cracks.”

She always packs a couple of stair gates and door knob locks to help.

In addition, she said she always put a ribbon on her daughter that has jingle bells to make it easier for her to hear her.

Clothes – Many parents share that their children have their preferred colors, fabrics, and smells, so why would this be different around the holidays? Not all clothes are made the same and our children can feel it.

A parent we talked with said that she brings several outfits (tops) for her son to choose and then she brings the pants. This way they become part of his collection for the holidays. She lets him wear them so he can get the feel for them before she wants him to wear them. “It actually worked well last year, so we are planning on doing it again.

There was one time where he did not want to wear any of them so we didn’t even make a fuss over it.” She reminded me: “Stick with what works, those little nuances are important to our kids. Nobody else has to understand, just you and your spouse.”

Menu – Does the child need to follow any diet restrictions?

We should never expect the host or hostess to know these things.

A mother we talked with said she always calls beforehand and lets them know that her child is on a special diet and that she will be bringing food for his special diet.

Another place where you can share the dietary requirements for your little one with the host or relatives is during your story

Bring supplies –

Most parents I know carry a “Mary Poppins” bag. They can pull anything they need at the right moment in any place they are. That shouldn’t change during the holidays, especially when we are far away from our children’s comfort zone and they are not surrounded by things that are familiar to them.

This may be the time when we carry extra clothes, extra head phones, ear plugs, a special blanket, a special toy, batteries, snacks, wet wipes; anything we may think will enable our children to feel comfortable in their new environment.

Don’t overbook – Sometimes this is easier said than done. We all have commitments that we have to comply with due to work, family, school, etc.

The key is to do what you can. Understand, people want to celebrate the friendship they have with you and your family.

One busy family we talked with said they host an open house for their kids’ friends and they do it early in the season so they can have family time the rest of the holiday time. They invite all of their kids’ friends and parents for cookies and milk/cocoa and they play games and sing carols. Everyone brings a gift that is donated to a toy drive and everyone leaves with a bag of cookies to go home and some “Reindeer food” for their own home. (See below)

Check for manners – In most homes children both big and small are expected to act in a certain way.

Why not have a quick family meeting before you leave for any activity and review what expectations you have for everyone’s behavior. You can remind them gently to use their ‘Please, Thank you,” and the way in which they address adults.

Make sure they know what is a deal breaker. This may even benefit your neuro-typical kids as well.

However you celebrate this holiday season, we wish that your holiday is merry and your New Year is bright, filled with love, health and joy.  We would love to hear if you used any of the suggestions we shared and how they worked! We are here for you and your family.

Share your story with us at