For most people, the winter holiday season conjures up images of bright lights, crowds, noise, and mad rushes to get shopping done before stores are left with empty racks. While it can be a fun and magical time, the holidays can also be stressful for adults, even though many children seem to thrive on all of the chaos.
Children on the autism spectrum and other special needs, however, can often find the disruptions to their routine to be overwhelming—not to mention the sensory needs that come with holiday smells, sights, and sounds. Use these precautions to ensure that the holidays produce smiles instead of meltdowns for your child with special needs. Don’t forget that you need to relax and enjoy the festivities too!
1. Zap Stress Before it Zaps You
A stressed out parent creates stress in a child, so keep your child calm by not taking on more than you can manage. Spread out holiday chores and social commitments, and schedule quiet periods to give you and your child time to decompress. Also, designate a special quiet space where your child can go to get away from it all. When traveling, bring along activities your child enjoys so he or she can retreat from the world and stay entertained.
BONUS TIP: Traveling by plane? Don’t give in to the added stress—you got this! Check out our guide to Surviving the Airport Like a Rock Star with Your Child with Special Needs!
2. Give Gift Giving Guidelines (Try to say it 5 times fast!!!)
Help your child understand more about gift giving by letting him or her participate in the tradition. Remind friends and relatives to go easy on the gift giving. Others may not understand that even something fun like receiving presents can be stressful for some children. Getting too many new items at once can be overwhelming. Also, tell friends and relatives to go light on the tape! Hard to open presents can cause undue stress.
3. Plan Ahead and Share the Plan
Make a calendar of events for the month with large blocks for each day. Schedule special alone time for you and your child and practice social manners and social skills activities. Role-playing potential conversations with relatives can help your child feel more comfortable with being social around the holidays. Include pictures or videos of upcoming events; managing emotions is easier for your child if he or she is prepared ahead of time for upcoming events (and if you manage yours!). Knowing what to expect at holiday gatherings is one of the best ways your child can prepare.
4. Give Your Child Responsibilities
At holiday gatherings, delegate certain responsibilities to your child. He or she can be in charge of taking coats, putting presents under the tree or keeping snack bowls full. At a party, activities for children with special needs that allow them to fulfill a designated role, gives them a sense of control.
5. Come Prepared with Calming Activities
Bring along a backpack of some of your child’s comfort items. This may include familiar snacks, favorite toys, their favorite tech gadgets, or anything that helps calm them down. Holiday parties can be over-stimulating for everyone, but when your child has sensory needs, a comforting backpack can mean the difference between a meltdown and a calm kiddo.
6. Give Yourself a Break
Unless you wear a cape and tights under your everyday clothes, you probably need help from time to time. Worrying about your child’s coping skills as well as planning for the holidays can be extremely draining. Don’t be ashamed to ask for assistance when you need it. Don’t try to do it all yourself!
From all of us at the James Stanfield Company, we wish you a happy holiday and a healthy new year!
Source: Friendship Circle
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.