Top Tips For Navigating Your Special Needs Child Through The Holiday Season.

The holidays are a wonderful time for children.  There are bright lights everywhere, holiday music playing, lots of parties and at least one visit with Santa.  All of these sights and activities will most certainly create fond memories for your children.
However, for special needs children and their parents, all of this bright and often loud activity can create large amounts of stress. 

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, it can be tempting during the holidays to prefer staying home and just shutting the world out.  Sometimes, you may need to do that for yourself and for your child.  However, keep in mind that you do not have to isolate yourself during this time.
There are ways for families with special needs children to enjoy the holidays without constraints.  Here are some suggestions I have suggestions I have for you:

1. Avoid large crowds. Crowds are tough for most people, and for children with special needs, they can be extremely overwhelming.  Children who are overwhelmed are much more likely to meltdown, misbehave or freeze up.  However, you don’t have to miss out on fun activities.  Try tweaking those special holiday activities to suit your child’s needs better.  For example, instead of going to the mall to visit Santa, invite ‘Santa’ to visit you at your home or look for a place that offers sensory friendly Santa visits. More and more businesses are beginning to offer Santa visits specifically designed for special needs children.  There’s likely a business who offers such visits somewhere near where you live!

2. Worry less about “age-appropriate experiences” for your child. Many special needs children are mentally younger than their actual age. A 12-year-old may still enjoy watching a holiday themed cartoon geared towards 4 and 5 year old’s, or your older child might still ask for a visit with Santa.  This is perfectly acceptable! At this time of year, we all become childlike.  I know I still enjoy watching “Rudolf” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on TV. So, feel free to wrap up a few presents that your child will love, no matter what age is listed on the box.

And finally,

3. Remember to give yourself grace! Be Gentle with yourself and your child. It is perfectly normal to feel sad and tired when your child doesn’t quite understand “the holidays”, or comprehend all of the effort that you put forth to make it special.  It can also be difficult to deal with the stares and comments of well-meaning friends and family members  who don’t understand why your child isn’t happy and engaged in the activities around them.

You can’t change the feelings of others, but you do have some control over your own feelings.  Remember that the main goal of the holidays should be to build relationships and memories.   For me and my family, this also includes focusing on our faith.  No matter what, if you’re able to remember just a few special moments when the holidays are done, then you’ve succeeded.

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Jason Spear Miller