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How to Accommodate Children with Special Needs During the Holidays

Making Spirits Bright:

How to Accommodate Children with Special Needs During the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful and sometimes chaotic time of year. There are plenty of things to go do and see, family to visit and events to attend. Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the season can present challenges for children with autism, sensory processing disorders or other special needs.

Here are five practical tips for making the holidays a little more accommodating for children with special needs:

  1. Designate a safe place. Between the noises of crinkling wrapping paper, cookware clanging and family laughing, the culmination of the sights, sounds and smells of the season can quickly become overwhelming. Make sure you have a quiet place where your child can retreat and take a break from the stimulation.
  2. Make a plan. Many children with special needs thrive on routine and plans. Try mapping out your holiday activities on a visible calendar where they can see what’s in store over the next coming weeks. On the day of your planned activities sit down and discuss what they can expect for the day.
  3. Equip your family for success. Consider bringing a pair of headphones, familiar snacks and a comforting toy to outings. Having familiar items present can go a long way.
  4. Open one gift at a time. It can become quite noisy and overwhelming when everyone is opening presents at the same time. Paper gets strewn everywhere, and a once open space becomes a little crowded. To avoid added anxiety, frustration and meltdowns, encourage people to open one gift at a time. It will hopefully feel a little less chaotic and more orderly for children with sensory challenges.
  5. Use social story techniques. “A social story is a narrative made to illustrate certain situations and problems and how people deal with them. They help children…understand social norms and learn how to communicate with others appropriately.” Consider using a social story to help prepare children in attending a holiday party, shopping at a crowded mall or any other out-of-routine event or experience. For example, prior to meeting Santa, show a photo of a child visiting with Santa. Describe who Santa is, what the child and Santa might be talking about and where you plan to see Santa.

Consider these tips and other sensory-friendly activities for making all spirits bright during the holiday season. Inclusion during the holidays is important, and there are ways we can accommodate and adapt to make this special time of year enjoyable for everyone.

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