Helping Your Special Needs Child Through the Holidays

The holidays are a joyous time of the year. They are bursting with fun-filled activities and offer a change from the normal, everyday routine. These activities and changes are welcomed by most; but for a child with special needs, these changes can present a challenge.

Special needs children often rely on routine. Routines offer consistency, so let them know what to expect and when to expect it. During the holidays, these changes in a regular schedule, topped with activities and events that are out-of-the-ordinary, can lead to confusion and delay for children with special needs.

If you have a child with special needs, make the holiday season as joyous as possible by implementing these strategies.


Do you have a parade, a party or some other special event planned that is out-of-the-norm? Don’t just spring these activities on your child, as this can make it very difficult for him or her to cope. Instead, prepare your child.

Discuss the event and the change it will cause in your schedule well in advance. Tell your child when the activity will take place and how it will alter traditional routines. Talk about what your child can expect during the special activity.

Additionally, if there are going to be a lot of people, there will likely be a lot of noise and a lot of activity. Make your child aware of this and at the same time, highlight how much fun the activity will be. The more prepared your child is, the less shocked they will be.

Include Familiarity:

Special needs children often rely on the familiar in order to feel comfortable.

They like to know what to expect and when to expect it; which is why routines are so important. When it comes to holiday events, remember to include things that are familiar. Take along items that your child feels comfortable with (if he or she has a ‘lovey’, bring it along); invite people that your child is familiar and comfortable with; and try attending an event in a location that your child knows.

The more you include the familiar in your holiday activities, the better your child will accept the changes that come along with the season.

Have an Alternate Plan:

When it comes to kids, it is always wise to have some sort of back-up plan in place. You never know when things can go awry and you’ll need to make a quick exit.

This is particularly true for children with special needs. Make sure you map out the area and that you have a speedy exit plan in place should you need to leave early. In addition to having an exit plan, make sure your child knows that one exists; this will provide a sense of security knowing that there is a way for him/her to easily leave, should they need to.

Be Sensible:

As a parent, you want your child to have the best experiences possible. You might have filled up your holiday schedule with a tremendous amount of activities or want your child to be able to partake in all of the festivities available.

While it’s nice to have expectations, you should realize that having too many expectations may lead to disappointment – for you and your child. Realize that you may not be able to do everything, but that doesn’t mean that your activities weren’t a success. The key to having a good time is simply going with the flow. So, have an idea in place, but don’t set your expectations so high that they can not be fulfilled.

This holiday season will surely be a wonderful and memorable one for you and your child when you implement these tips and strategies. Happy Holidays!

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