A Recipe for a Joyful Holiday

SONY DSCThe holidays are times of good food, joyful memories, heightened excitement and full schedules. This hectic pace can be challenging for children with special needs. However, with some additional planning and preparation you can indeed make this the holiday of your dreams. Here is a recipe for a joyful holiday:

Look at the holiday through your child’s eyes

What aspects of the holiday would your child enjoy? In our family we always said that 3 gifts were brought to the Jesus by the Magi, so we give 3 gifts for Christmas.  Many parents simply enjoy buying gifts for a child. However, too many gifts can be too stimulating for some children.  I found that with Ryan, 3 gifts worked for him.  Focusing on what he found interesting, whether it cost $1 or $1,000, was what was important.

Adapt an Advent Calendar

Ryan and I often did a Christmas Countdown while focused on the religious aspect of Christmas. I also prepared Ryan for upcoming events, visits with family and social outings by using social scripting.  By creating a countdown and practicing expectations, Ryan was better prepared for the events.  An additional idea is to adapt an Advent calendar with pictures of what your family will be doing. You could have a photo of a family member’s home that you plan to visit and show your child how many days until you will be visiting this place.  

Decorate Throughout the House

If your child is over stimulated by sensory experiences, you may wish to limit the amount of decorations in one room and/or gradually decorate your home. Decorations are fun, but they are a change, and with change, comes anxiety.

Keep it Simple

Limit your schedule. When Ryan was around 3 years old I noticed that he was quickly bored when visiting others homes resulting in various behavior challenges. At that point, I made visits shorter. We followed the same routine starting early around 4:30 p.m. and ending by 6:30 p.m. Talking to your family about your schedule and why you need to keep your visits short and structured will not only help you, but will allow them to understand.

Two Cars are Better Than One

By driving two cars (if possible) you can allow the other family members to remain at a family function or holiday outing so that you and your child are able to leave early. This will alleviate your feelings of guilt and sadness.


Keep an eye out for signs of anxiety. This could be the cause of an increase in your child’s repetitive behaviors. If you do see this, know that your child’s anxiety is increasing and give your child a break.

Bring a Favored Activity

Whether it’s a toy, iPad or portable DVD player your child enjoys, take it with you on your visits. This can create a comfort zone for your child in the midst of the hustle and bustle of an event or outing.

Attending Worship Services or Holiday Concerts

When Ryan was little, the church or holiday concert crowds, noise and unclear expectations seemed to trigger some behaviors. It was best for us to plan, sit with a friend and start a routine. Now, 18 years later, we maintain the same program. Every week, Ryan and I attend church. We sit in the same row near the back of the church, and every week Aunt Jeanne saves us seats.  Whether going to weekly services or attending a holiday concert, you can do this with some planning. Prepare your child for the social demands that will occur. Go early to get a seat, perhaps at the end of the row. Taking a supportive friend or family member will allow your other children to remain in case you need to leave early. 

Don’t forget to relax and laugh. Take time to dwell in the possibilities of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Acknowledge and celebrate when things are going well for you and for others. Gratitude strengthens hearts and minds.  I hope that your holidays are full of joy and laughter. Happy Holidays!   

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