Written by Sophie Benitez, Disability Services Trainer
*Note: the tips below were inspired by the following resources:
- To reduce stress - Schedule quiet times and create space in your home where children can relax and chill out (i.e., a safe room). The holidays may bring new situations, people, places, and routines and schedules which could be overwhelming for children with disabilities.
- Introduce friends and family members that you will be spending the holidays with to your child – When your child sees friends and family members in person and sees faces that they recognize and are familiar with instead of people they don’t know they have a greater chance of being calm during holiday visits and festivities. If the friends or family members live in town try to schedule a quick visit with one or two of the friends or family members at a time before the holidays. For friends or family members living out of town—try using FaceTime or a video chat so your child can get used to the new faces and new voices. Let friends and family know the purpose of visits or chats. It is also okay to share tips to help them have a successful interaction with your child. Tips could include, asking friends/family members to keep voices lower during the visit if loud voices or they are upsetting. Also, if a child likes horses or Legos, it is okay to ask the child about those topics. Social interactions about something a child is interested in will increase chances a child will feel comfortable with that person and can reduce unexpected worries later.
- Prepare with pictures – You can show a child pictures of people they will meet during holidays and show your child the homes and the places that they will visit to get them ready for the holidays. If your child has already video chatted with people that is great! If not, pictures are a good second option. You can tell stories about various family members and friends that they will be seeing. Social media can also be used to help your children get familiar with new people that will be visiting during the holidays. For example, if your child has a cousin named Jamie who is a gymnast, share that information and find videos on Facebook, Instagram or other social media of Jamie doing gymnastics. You can also talk to your child about who their cousin Jamie is and what Jamie does. Pictures of places can be helpful.
- Bring a meal to gatherings that you know your child likes and is used to having. Sometimes new foods can also be overwhelming. If they have strong food preferences or are picky eaters, bring their favorite foods to holiday meals. If there is a recipe that you can make that your child likes and the others at the holiday meal will like too, make enough food for everyone, and keep a serving of it aside for your child.
- Ask for help - Keep in mind that you live with your child every day, so raising them is a habit and routine for you. The people that are not around your child every day may not be aware or informed about your child or their needs. Creating a list to reference might be helpful.
- Slowly introduce sensory input – For a lot of people holidays in the Fall and Winter seasons put their sensory input at an extreme level. With the holidays bringing bright lights and strong smells, lots of children with disabilities get overwhelmed easily. To help your child with the adjustment, introduce new places, smells, and sounds one by one when it is possible. While introducing the new places, smells, and sounds incorporate them with familiar and cozy sensory input too.
- Use tools – Ask a pediatric therapist for what equipment or tools they recommend that may help your child and your family. For children that have physical disabilities TheraTogs and Kinesio Tape might be helpful. Children that have autism might find weighted blankets, earmuffs, and specialty sand helpful also. Many times children that have ADHD find using fidget toys and calming jars helpful.
Here are some resources if you’d like to read more about supporting your child with a disability during the holidays: