Three Tips on Surviving the Holidays With Special Needs Kids


Cue the music: It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

But for some families with special needs children, the holidays can bring anxiety and uncertainty, especially when confronted with large family gatherings either at home or away from home in new environments. Questions arise, like:

How am I going to keep her busy for the 4-hour car ride?

Is he going to be able to go into Aunt Matilda’s house full of tchotchkes without touching (and breaking!) everything?

What am I going to do when she throws the vegetables on the floor and refuses to sit down during Christmas dinner?

Here are some tips on how to survive the holidays with your special needs kiddo:

Provide a visual schedule. Many of our special kiddos respond positively to knowing what’s coming next. Providing a visual schedule is one of the ways we can help kiddos predict their environment. When possible, take pictures of the specific people, places, or things that will be a part of the child’s day. Real pictures provide concrete imagery. If real pictures are not possible, any approximation (pictures or words) that your child will understand is appropriate.

Write a social story. Social stories are meant to provide short descriptions of anticipated events with specific information regarding what to expect and to provide positive options for the child about how to react. Writing a social story tailor-made to your upcoming plans will help give your child a sense of control over the environment and their emotions. Learn more about creating social stories here.

Model and praise. This is possibly one of the most effective ways to help your child cope through the holiday season. Be the role model and praise him/her for the attitudes and behaviors you want them to exhibit more often. It might seem silly, but you can always praise other adults or children that are doing what you would like your child to do. Sometimes when kids see their peers receiving praise, they will start to model the same behavior to receive positive praise.

If you have any questions or concerns about how you can help your child through the holidays, it is best to collaborate with your occupational therapist to come up with a solid plan for success.

From our Kid’s Creek family to yours, we wish you the warmest regards for the upcoming holiday season!

Claire Whatley, MS, OTR/L

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