Fun Christmas Traditions for Children with Special Needs

It’s that time of year again. Many families around the world are pulling out totes full of Christmas decorations and preparing for another season of frivolity and traditions—many of which may have been passed down for generations. And while, for some families, these traditions are a cherished opportunity to spend time together, for the families of children with special needs, they can sometimes be stressful and difficult.

So, what’s a parent to do? Throw in the towel? Give up on years of tradition and treat Christmas just like any other day? You can do that, of course. Or, you could create your own traditions that speak to the needs of your family. 

Holiday Decorating

Decorating the house for the holiday can be a wonderful way to encourage creativity and even help with dexterity. When putting ornaments on the tree, pick treasures that are appropriate to your child’s abilities and allow him or her to hook the pieces onto the branches. If small ornaments and Christmas hooks are too manually challenging, try using favorite toys or dolls and simply have your child place them in the branches of the tree.

While you’re decorating the rest of the house, enlist your child’s help. If some of the decorations themselves are too fragile for him/her to handle, allow your child to make some of the decisions about which pretties to use and where they should go. Not only will this allow them to exercise their creativity, it will give him or her a sense of pride and help them understand that their role in these family traditions—and in the family itself– is very important.

Baking Christmas Goodies

Special treats are an important part of most family’s holiday traditions. And what could be more fun for your little one than getting elbow-deep in cookie dough and churning out some of those treats themselves? Yes, chances are the mess in the kitchen is going to be considerable, and it’s possible that your cookies will be more tasty than attractive. But who cares?


Kneading dough, greasing cookie sheets and smelling the lovely scents of ginger, clove and cardamom can be fun and intriguing sensory experiences. And, your kids won’t even realize that they’re actually practicing their motor skills as they use raisins, candies and frosting to decorate their creations. You can even use gingerbread men to practice learning some of the parts of the body—eyes, arms, legs, feet and hands.

Express Your Gratitude and Appreciation

The holidays are a perfect time to begin teaching your child about gratitude. At Christmas dinner, you can have everyone in your family share something that they’re grateful for or something that they love about other members of the family. You can also discuss special memories that everyone shares and ask your children why those particular memories are meaningful.

Giving Back

Giving back is what the holidays are all about—and they provide a perfect opportunity to teach your child about helping others. You can make a donation to a local charity in the family’s name, discuss several different charity organizations with your child and let him/her help you decide which one to contribute to, or take a trip to the grocery store and have your little ones help pick out special foods to include in a box for the food bank. Even more personally, with your child’s help, gather up toys that he or she has outgrown and donate them to a homeless shelter.

With a few adjustments and a little patience, holiday traditions can be a great way to help your special needs child learn new skills, feel connected to other people and strengthen relationships.

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