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Challenge: Reducing Holiday Stress

Special Needs Families and the Holidays - How to Survive the "Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

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Special needs families often feel stress and overwhelm on a typical day.

The holidays can be particularly stressful for special needs families due to the excessive sensory stimulation, disrupted routines and demanding social expectations.

What is the most wonderful time of the year for many is actually a struggle for special needs families.

A message for the special needs families that just can’t do the holidays – it’s okay to modify or to just skip it altogether!

Here’s the thing – as special needs parents we are used to fighting for our kids.

We battle to get them the care and services they need, the inclusion they deserve and the same level of respect and human decency we all expect.

So we may feel that our children deserve the traditional, picture perfect holiday experience that we have painted in our own minds.

Our kids should be able to write a list for Santa, go to the mall to visit him and tell him what they would like for Christmas.

We should all trim the tree as a family in front of the fire and then drink hot cocoa together as we listen to our favorite holiday songs or watch a Christmas classic.

I mean, why shouldn’t our kids experience Christmas caroling in the neighborhood or attend an evening holiday concert at the school just like everyone else?

The bigger question is why do we feel obligated to provide all of these things for our kids if it’s not in their best interest?

And the bright lights and loud sounds at the mall may be too overwhelming for some of our kids’ sensory systems.

Sitting on a strange man’s lap and being expected to make eye contact and communicate with lights flashing and bells jingling and people yelling to look at the camera might be a nightmare for some children.

Maybe our kids have physical disabilities that prevent them from being able to decorate the tree or dietary restrictions that prohibit hot cocoa.

Let’s face it, some of our kids can barely hold it together for school during the day so going back for a nighttime activity might be too much.

Or maybe their medication might make them too tired.

There are so many reasons that traditional holiday activities and the needs of our children do not mesh well.

And you know what? That’s okay.

It’s perfectly fine to tailor your holiday activities to suit your family and forget the rest.

The biggest obstacle is probably going to be your own emotions.

As special needs parents, we work hard to make accommodations and put the necessary modifications in place so our kids can succeed in different environments.

The holidays should be no different. We need to adapt our own expectations to make this time of year work for our kids.

If you happen to be one of the many special needs families that can’t do holidays like everyone else, try these suggestions to create your own traditions that work for you!

Consider your child’s sensory needs

Only participate in holiday activities that will not overwhelm your child’s sensory system.

If your child does not like loud noises, then a public holiday concert is probably not the best idea.

Perhaps you can play holiday music at home at an appropriate volume.

Make an event out of it and include your child’s favorite snacks and comfort item.

As long as your child is comfortable and happy, that’s all that matters.

Only buy gifts that will be useful

We have a tendency to want to shower our children with gifts – especially the hot items of the season.

However, those items might not be appreciated by our kids.

No need to buy a hover board for your child if they have poor coordination and low tone and it would just be a frustration.

Or if your daughter does not play with dolls, don’t bother purchasing an American Girl doll no matter how great the sale!

Celebrate your child’s unique interests

If your kid is into penguins, go wild and give penguin-themed gifts.

Or if your child does not have preferences or they are non-verbal, purchase something that you would normally not get because it seemed frivolous.

A new, fun themed fuzzy blanket or a new, snazzy wheelchair pillow.

Regardless, don’t fall victim to the pressure to buy whatever is the hot toy item that year if your kid really does not have any use for it.

Let your child be comfortable

Social media is full of adorable matching outfits and darling children donning their best holiday duds.

However, our children might not be able to tolerate an itchy sweater, bow in her hair, or tight shoes.

These things may elicit sensory overload and a resulting meltdown.

Not worth it! Let your children be comfortable.

Warm and cozy will be the memory they have of the holidays.

Skip the pictures and/or cards

In line with not putting our kids through the discomfort of formal dress clothes, why bother trying to pose them to get a perfect Christmas photo?

In fact, skip the photos and cards altogether and send a holiday letter if you feel the need.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Reinforce with your family the expectations if you are hosting or what you will need if you are going to their house.

For instance, if you need to have a quiet space set up in case your child needs to calm down, let your host know that ahead of time.

They will, more than likely, be willing to accommodate you.

And, if they aren’t this would be the time to start your own tradition of staying home with your family and doing the things that make you all happy!

The bottom line is that if you are a special needs family and you cannot do holidays like everyone else, don’t fret!

The main thing is to be sure your kids are healthy and happy.

Their comfort and security are most important during the holiday season and always.

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