Thanksgiving Survival Tips for Children with Special Needs

young boy playing with toys in ball pit

While most families look forward to the holidays, families of children with special needs find these times stressful. Preparation is the best way to eliminate or prevent the stresses that all the changes of the holiday season can bring upon your child. Preparing yourself ahead of time can lighten your workload this Thanksgiving, and getting your entire family on board can make the transition into the holidays much easier.

  • Reduce Stress-The sensory overload for your child on the holiday can be a bit overwhelming. Reduce the stress on both your child and yourself. Scheduling specific times that are set aside for quiet time or creating chill out zones in your house can lower stress levels. It is important to remember that children with special needs feed off of their parents’ stress levels. Do not get yourself stressed to the max.
  • Ask for Help-Friends and family want to help, but when it comes to children with special needs they often don’t know what to do. Make a list of how family members can help you. From spending time with your other children, to participating in activities with your special needs child, even pouring a glass of wine, knowing how to help will make it much easier for everyone to share the workload. And it helps you to bond as a family as well.
  • Give Them a Job- Giving your child a job can help distract them during the holiday chaos. Simple tasks such as taking people’s coats, answering the door, or passing out drinks or food can help them reduce the stress of what is going on by focusing on one given task.
  • Make a Schedule- Creating a schedule that marks when they can expect changes is also a great way for special needs children to understand what to expect. Help them even more by making notes to prepare them for what may go on that day. For example, people will stand around and talk, we will play a family game, or we will do a toast before dinner.
  • Manage New Smells- Many different new smells for children who are dealing with autism can be particularly stressful. You can manage your child’s reaction by transitioning seasonal holiday smells like cinnamon or evergreen scents into their playdough. You can also ask family members who are coming over to refrain from wearing cologne or perfumes as all the different smells can really send your child into overload.
  • Reserve Special Time- Getting overwhelmed with all you have to do for the holidays can leave your child craving attention. Set aside 5-10 minutes a day where you commit to focusing solely on your child and tuning into what they are feeling and doing while you are busy getting everything ready.
  • Talk to Your Family- Talking to your family ahead of time so they can clearly understand your process during the holiday can help eliminate stress on the whole family. Tell them what will help or hurt your child and explain to them the importance of following what you all rehearse to make the holidays easy and enjoyable for everyone.
  • Prepare a Bag of Activities- If you find yourself traveling to another family member’s house, fill a backpack with your child’s favorite toys to help calm them. If you notice that they are getting overwhelmed, find a quiet corner and give them some of the things in their bag.
  • Use Pictures to Help- Show pictures of what happened the year before to spark your child’s memory and keep them from being overwhelmed.

If you are caring for a child with special needs or have a family member whose child has special needs, take time to understand that the disruption of routine, unfamiliar schedule, loud noises, and introduction of new things can make and otherwise enjoyable day extremely difficult. Reach out to family members who you know might need a little extra help this holiday season and see what you can do to make this Thanksgiving memorable for everyone involved.

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