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Holiday Survival for Children with Special Needs

I cannot believe that we are entering the holiday season. The stores are decorated and so are many of the homes in my neighborhood, but it still seems like the year has flown by. Feels like we just said goodbye to summer and in a few days we will be celebrating Thanksgiving.

I love the holiday season- the music, the decorations, celebrating family traditions and spending time with friends. It’s the most wonderful time of year, but the holiday season can also bring about stress and anxiety. Large family gatherings and social events can be unpleasant for children, especially children with special needs. As you prepare for the holiday season, here are a few tips to help your children prepare for and engage in the holidays too:

  • Use a schedule or calendar to help him/ her countdown to the holidays your family will be celebrating.

  • Talk about how you will celebrate the day. Will you stay at home? Will you host guests at your house? Will you be visiting someone else’s home? Use photos to help him/ her visualize who will be participating in the holiday celebrations.

  • Thanksgiving is a day when we give thanks for the people and things in our lives that we appreciate. Take some time and talk to your little one about what you appreciate. Have some extra time or an extra set of hands to help? Browse these Pinterest boards for some easy and fun Thanksgiving activities for preschoolers

  • Make holiday wish lists. This can be a list of gifts to purchase for others or a list of things your child is hoping to receive. Use catalogs and circulars and cut out pictures to create a wish list.

  • Do you have specific family traditions? Give your little one a kid-friendly introduction to some of the things your family has done since you were his age.

  • The kitchen will be a busy place for the next few weeks. Kids love to cook! Find a small task that he/she can help with in the kitchen. Maybe it’s counting out the measurements for Nana’s gravy recipe, or stirring the cake batter- but your child will enjoy having a kitchen duty of his or her own. If you don’t want to involve him/ her in cooking food, here is a fun recipe for pumpkin pie playdough that will do the trick too!

  • Discuss socially appropriate behavior. Try using a social story like this Thanksgiving social story from Autism Speaks. Social stories are an illustrated visual support to teach children what to expect in specific situations and will help them understand the change from their usual routine.

  • When the actual day comes around remember who your child is! If your child doesn’t tolerate different textures or layers of clothing this will also hold true on special occasions. Dress him/ her comfortably!

  • Table manners are important. Although your family will be understanding if your child impatiently grabs food before being served, it is a good idea to teach table manners early and reinforce them often. Table manners are important in being socially accepted. For tips on teaching table manners check out these tips for children with special needs and autism.

  • Children with autism and their families may encounter specific challenges. Happy Holiday Resources offers 12 great tips full of guidance and support during this time of year.

I hope these tips are helpful, but more importantly I wish you and your family a happy and wonderful holiday season!

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