10 ways to make holidays easier for children with developmental disabilities

holiday gifts wrappedThe holidays can be an especially difficult time for people with developmental disabilities. And who can blame them? Changes in routine, different demands, new foods, sounds, textures — what a challenge!

A post I read years ago on the ABA4Autism or other Neuropsychological Disorders blog serves as a good reminder when holiday time comes for our grown son Gus, who has severe and profound disabilities. The post offers tips to make the winter holidays better:

1. Try to keep your child in his or her usual routine as much as possible.

2. Sensory over stimulation — the lights, sounds, smells, and even the relatives who want to hug your child — are the main culprits during the holidays. Eliminating or minimizing these culprits are your best bet. Plus, you may want to talk to your family about how to greet your child when they arrive, too.

3. Instead of limiting the holiday decorations, some families who have children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders wait until Christmas Eve to put up their tree and decorate.

4. Some families let their children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders do all of the decorating. Children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders may line up or stack decorations rather than decorate in the traditional way, but so what. Let them enjoy the activity in their own way.

5. Rather than try to do the Christmas shopping with children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders in a crowded, noisy mall, many families shop by catalogue or online and let the child point to or circle the toys he/she wants. Websites, such as www.stars4kidz.com, offer a variety of toys for children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Just type “autism toys” in your search engine.

6. Tactile toys are often a better choice for children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Toys that make sounds or involve too much stimulation or are too complex may not cause an aversive reaction in the child. As I mentioned above, there are websites that sell toys designed for children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Try ordering some of these toys and then let your child select the ones to play with as they are unwrapped.

7. Talk to relatives before they come over about the best way to behave with children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders. Have them read my article, “What Horses Tell Us About Autism,” which is available for free on this website.

8. Generally, kids with autism or other neuropsychological disorders do better in the morning than in the late afternoon or evening when they are tired. It may be better to schedule Christmas events at these times.

9. The parents of children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders need to relax themselves. Often the child with autism picks up on the parents’ stress and that is enough to ruin Christmas.

10. And last but not least, realize that you are probably not going to have perfect food, perfect decorations and perfect gifts. Christmas with children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders may not be traditional, but it can still have real meaning. (Sometimes I wonder if children with autism or other neuropsychological disorders know that Christmas has become too commercial.)

We’re off to Wisconsin soon to celebrate an early Christmas with our grown son Gus in his group home. I’ll keep some of these tips (especially the one reminding parents to relax!) in mind.

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  1. Beth Finke Says:

    THANK you, Dr. Jeanne. Happy Holidays!


  2. DoctorJeanne Says:

    Nicely toned article. Tis the season….for a whole lota stuff. And with a bit of advance planning and prep and some practiced ‘scripts’, the holidays can have both meaning and fun for family traditions. Even “when adults divorce”JM, the family can still have their special routines, just tweeked a bit and with each member choosing the most important ‘event’ for them to have happen.
    Many problems can be prevented (the best possible problem solution is prevention!) with a few routine implementations being done naturally and logically from ‘the beginning’.
    Creating an understanding of length of time, knowing when your child is approaching overload, doing slow and easy preps for change, sometimes ‘messing things up or offering a broken cookie’ and helping your child to cope and live thru the experience will provide a foundation for accepting some of life’s inevitability and surviving; and always maintain meaningful moments throughout every day; these are a few suggestion which will bring some peace and harmony to all and to all a better night (and day). And avoid changes and pressures during the sun-setting hours! (For several reasons, this is true for elders also!) (661) 831-3185 intervention and psychotherapy, workshops and observations, Interactional AnalysisJM with immediate plan creation for implementation NOW and lessons about the ‘how’. doctorjeannephd@yahoo.com


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