How to Succeed at the Holidays When You Have a Child With Special Needs

A few months ago, my children and I were visiting my mom for a few days. The daughter of my mom’s best friend (I’ll call her J) had just moved back to our hometown with her daughter, so my mom invited them all over for lunch. J and I have known each other since we were toddlers, but hadn’t spent much time together in over two decades, so I was looking forward to the visit.

Within moments of their arrival, J and I were sharing “war stories” about our special needs children. It was one of the most honest conversations I’ve had in awhile, and although our mothers were sitting at the table across from us, they barely spoke a word because J and I were conversing so rapidly and enthusiastically. Although her child’s issues are very different from my children’s issues, just being able to sit with someone who “got it” was a relief to me (and I’m sure to J, as well). It didn’t matter at all to me that her child wouldn’t eat what my mom had prepared, and it didn’t matter to her that my son couldn’t sit still.

In an ideal world, all holiday parties and family gatherings would go the way that visit did, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Friends and family members are usually well-meaning, but struggle with how to deal with nontypical behaviors. I’ve always chosen a two-pronged approach to situations like these – prepare my child to participate as much as possible, but also prepare others to accept that we may not be able to follow all of the norms to the letter. In that vein, I’ve gathered some resources that I feel may be helpful as you enter the holiday season.

10 Holiday Tips for Families of Kids With Special Health Needs – Some basic tips like avoiding events with loud noises, being flexible, and getting enough sleep, but all are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of the season.

13 Holiday Survival Tips For Your Child With Special Needs – Excellent ideas on how to “cushion the blow” of new things for children who are wary of the unfamiliar. One of the useful tips: Add cinnamon to your child’s play-dough to gradually introduce new smells.

How to Create the Perfect Thanksgiving for Families with Special Needs – Does the typical Thanksgiving Day family gathering focused on food sound less than relaxing to you? Try some of these ideas to mold your Thanksgiving into a more enjoyable event for everyone.

Social stories are a great way to help a child understand in advance what to expect in a situation, what is expected of him or her, and why. Following are some resources for social stories related to the upcoming holidays, or feel free to make your own using this primer.

Thanksgiving Social Skill Story
Thanksgiving Visual Recipes
What to Expect at Christmas Social Story
Visiting Family Christmas Social Story
Visiting Santa Christmas Social Story
Getting Presents at Christmas Social Story
Hanukkah Social Story
Pajama Day Social Story

25 Truths Special Needs Parents Wish Others Understood This Thanksgiving – This collection of quotes from other special needs parents doesn’t include a lot of tips or advice, but it WAS helpful to me in feeling like I’m not alone in my nontypical parenting journey (and I might just use a few of these statements as inspiration for talking to my own family members!)

From my home to yours, have an enjoyable and peaceful holiday season!


Andi Sligh is an ordinary mom living an extraordinary life on the Alabama gulf coast with a daughter with cerebral palsy, a son with Down syndrome, an adventurous husband, a rescued Schnoodle, a camera, and a worn out pair of running shoes. Find her at her blog, Bringing the Sunshine, or on Instagram.

Image Courtesy Pixabay/Title Added

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