For many families, the holiday mood can swing from one end of the happiness spectrum to the other in the space of a heartbeat.

Holidays are a time of sensory overload for everyone, but they can be especially difficult for many children with special needs or mental health challenges. The excitement, the anxiety, the changes in schedules…they all add up!

We have some ideas to help and while they won’t work for everyone, they may help your family keep the holiday momentum on the side of “wonderful.”

Avoid as many anxiety and sensory triggers as you can by planning ahead. Schedules, clothing, noise, contact levels may be able to be adapted or adjusted with advance planning.

Go over a schedule of what to expect during each event with your child. Knowing what is planned will help them prepare. Visiting a space before an event can also help relieve anxiety about the unknown.

Help your child prepare for each gathering by talking about the day and who will be there. Knowing what to expect and who people are all helps to reduce anxiety. Photos from past events are a great way to help your child remember who each person is and what will happen again this year.

Does your child want to give gifts? Great! Perhaps they have a talent they want to share, or an idea for the perfect present for a loved one. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the wonder of giving.

Help your family make your child comfortable. Ensure family members know about your child’s interests and needs. Either your child or you can send out a short update letting them know what to expect, what to avoid and what your child is interested in. This can help make it easier for your child when they are surrounded by extended family who may not know your child well.

Does your child want to help during the event? Give them a job! Everyone loves being able to contribute to the day. Greeting people, distributing gifts or folding napkins gives a sense of purpose and relieves anxiety.

Allow your child to take the lead. Sensory overload? New people? Help your child recognize when they need a break and allow them to step away if needed. Have their relaxation tools handy. Earphones, a separate space and music can all help.

Finally and most importantly…relax.

Your holidays may not be the Hollywood version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” but they are your opportunity to build special and unique memories of celebration with your children, family and friends. Happy Holidays!

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