Getting through the holidays with a loved one who has additional needs can sometimes be tricky!
Many families with sensory sensitive members actually dread the coming of the holiday season.
Changes in routine, traveling, large and crowded family gatherings, noisy celebrations, and even unfamiliar smells can all wreak havoc on our kid’s sensitive sensory systems triggering extreme overload and major meltdowns.
My own daughter, Bethany, is an extreme creature of habit and a total control freak!
She wants her routine to always be the same, and she wants every person in her life to always be in the place that she has designated to be theirs.
Changes in routines–hers and everyone else’s can throw her into an anxious, angry, and aggressive tailspin.
She can barely stand it when her sisters have to go to work.
In her mind they should be sitting by their phones waiting for her to call them. All. The. Time.
When her brother is not in his usual place playing games on his computer she goes looking for him.
She even tries to control where the cat can and can’t roam!
By now you’ve probably guessed that celebrating holidays is hard on Bethany and even harder on the rest of us.
If it was just Bethany, my husband and I, we would be content just having a quiet holiday at home with the most minimal of changes to our routine.
But since we have eight other kids and two absolutely adorable grandchildren to consider, we can’t, nor would we ever even want to exclude them from our holiday festivities just for the sake of avoiding a difficult day.
That would be just too darn sad for all of us.
Over the years we’ve tried different coping strategies in our attempt to keep holiday anxiety and meltdowns to a minimum.
Without a doubt, each of the following tips has been successful for our family at one time or another.
Tip #1: Stay home for the holidays. If your loved one is most comfortable in his or her own home, then plan on staying home for the holidays if that would afford you the best chance of having the happiest holiday possible.
Tip # 2: Go somewhere else for the holidays. Our daughter, Bethany, actually does better spending Christmas away from home! The last couple of years, our very large family has been gathering at our son’s house for Christmas dinner. This arrangement works out much better for us because Bethany is not forced to give up her normally quiet and calm “safe zone” to a giant noisy crowd!
Tip #3: Let your loved one opt out of joining your holiday festivities altogether. Although not ideal, if your child can’t tolerate going out or having their own home invaded for the holidays, then Mom and Dad might consider taking turns celebrating elsewhere.
Tip #4: Prepare ahead for the big day with a personalized holiday social story. A couple of weeks before the big day write a social story using pictures or words (if your child is a reader) describing what will happen on the holiday. Go over the story with your child at least once a day. Be sure to include any changes in routine that may happen and who holiday visitors will be. We want to eliminate as many surprises for our kids as possible.
Tip #5: Plan ahead to eliminate potential meltdowns. If you’re spending the holidays at home, designate an area of the house as a “calm down” spot where your child one can retreat to in case the celebration proves to be overwhelming. Be sure to inform holiday visitors ahead of time what area of the house will be off limits and explain why so no one will be offended.
Tip #6: Declare some items off limits to visitors. Does your child have a favorite toy or other item that he might be anxious about if visiting kids get a hold of it? Make this item one that he or she will not be required to share and let visitors know ahead of time that this item will be off limits. Again, explain why so they understand and hopefully will not be offended.
Do you have any suggestions you could add to our tips?
Bethany, Malcolm and I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season!
*Please note, that I have edited this post to remove the term, “special needs” and tip #7 which referred to using a reward system to prevent meltdowns as these were both pointed out to me as being offensive to autistic individuals. I greatly value the opinions and criticisms of those with autism and would never knowingly offend anyone, most of all my own precious daughter who is an autistic brain tumor survivor.