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Holiday Tips for Families with Special Needs Children

As all parents know, kids can add an aspect of difficulty to just about anything. And when you have a child with special needs, everyday situations can become especially challenging. Add the disruption of holiday plans, family gatherings, and travel into the mix and things can get more complicated than ever! If you’re a parent who is dreading the holiday season for these reasons, keep reading! We’ve gathered tips from experts on how to make the holiday season enjoyable for you, your special needs child, and your entire family!

  • Be Brave! As a parent with a special needs child, you might be afraid to try something “complicated” like traveling for the holidays, but it might not be as complicated as you imagine! Try branching out this season if you think it would benefit your family. Even family trips don’t have to be as stressful as you might imagine, says My Family Travels.

  • Plan Ahead! Whether you’re planning a trip or just planning a family gathering, planning ahead can help minimize stress for everyone involved. Planning ahead can help ensure that both you and your child have what’s necessary to avoid stress or anxiety.

  • Don’t Overwhelm Your Child. Figure out the hours of the day when your child will be the most rested, relaxed, and engaged, and plan holiday meals, gift exchanges, and gatherings around those times.

  • Scale Down. This advice can be helpful to almost any aspect of holiday planning and festivities with special needs children. Don’t feel pressured to do anything just because it’s what other families are doing, or even if it used to be part of your tradition as a child. Do what works – in the time frame, quantity, and energy level that works for your child. For example, there’s no need to attend the full performance of The Nutcracker Ballet. Watch a video at home, or research some shorter, special needs-friendly performances in the area. Similarly, if your child wants to go shopping to buy presents for friends and family, try shopping in small doses – maybe just looking for one or two gifts at a time, or try online shopping from the comfort of home.

  • Brief Friends and Family Ahead of Time and Ask for Their Understanding. Don’t be afraid to explain your child’s needs and comfort zones to holiday guests. Let them know what your child can handle and what might be overstimulating. Ask for understanding and let them know that some activities might need to be cut short or adapted. Don’t worry if friends and family don’t understand – just move forward in a way that’s best for your family.

  • When Traveling, Call Ahead to Ensure Accessibility. If you decide to travel for the holidays, make sure to ask if your planned lodging, entertainment, dining, and transportation locations offer the accessibility your child needs. If accessibility isn’t an option, don’t be afraid to provide feedback and then look for other options.

  • Avoid Crowds and Overstimulation. There are lots of ways to avoid crowds and overstimulating situations while still enjoying the festivity. For example, pack cookies for a car excursion to find the best decorations instead of walking through busy malls or markets to see the sights. Try visiting holiday displays on off-hours, and even invite Santa for a private visit rather than the potentially overwhelming experience of visiting Santa at the mall. Research “sensory-friendly” experiences in the area that your child might enjoy.

  • Plan Fun Holiday Activities at Home. Make your child feel both comfortable and important by planning activities they can participate in and enjoy at home. Baking cookies, making decorations, building gingerbread houses, watching age-appropriate holiday movies, and holiday sing-alongs are all great places to start!

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away. As Very Well Family reminds us, some friends and family are great with understanding your life with a special needs child, and others are not. It’s okay to walk away from situations where you feel pressure, judgment, criticism, or unnecessary stress.

  • Take It Easy. Remember that the holidays aren’t a contest. It’s not about doing it best or better. It’s about making memories and connecting with loved ones. When making plans, and deciding where to cut back, revisit your priorities.

As a law office dedicated to special needs law, we care about your entire family’s well-being. If you ever feel that your special needs child is being treated unfairly or unjustly in regards to their rights under special needs law, don’t hesitate to get compassionate legal assistance. Call (973) 233 4049 or send a message online. We serve clients in Livingston, West Orange, Newark, Belleville, Clifton, Irvington, East Orange, Paterson, Passaic, and Verona.