holiday tips with special needs kids

My son is autistic. With that comes random meltdowns, defiance and more. Oh, and to add to this, he’s three, so there’s that. We’ve been working with a behavior therapist over the past year and she’s really helping us both learn to cope with the stress associated with parenting a child with autism, as well as helping Brady learn his own coping mechanisms.

Below are the top 5 things I’ve found have really helped us cope with autism and the holidays.

  1. Make a picture schedule and stick to it. Kids with special needs can better prepare for transitions if they know when they are comings. I go so far as to have a picture of each step, i.e. get dressed, put on shoes, put on coat, get in car, etc. PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is a widely recognized and used tool in kids with special needs. Not just autism, PECS can help kids with any speech delay or condition where communication proves to be difficult. You can even make a picture schedule on your smartphone or tablet if you want to go the high tech route. There’s and app for that!
  2. Try to foresee issues and then avoid them. Sounds simple right?! It’s not, trust me, but if you know your child doesn’t like loud noise and the family is going to a fireworks show, you can either bring noise canceling headphones or choose another activity to do. If you know your child won’t be as thrilled as the other children to see Santa, maybe have him wave from a distance instead of forcing him on his lap. It’s worth missing a photo opp to have less stress for both you and your child.
  3. Talk to family members beforehand. I sound like a broken record when visiting relatives, even ones that live close to us. I tell them what he can and can’t eat, what his favorite toys are, what he can tolerate as far as noise or activities and what to avoid completely. I’m a cross between helicopter mom and broken record actually. You are the one who knows what’s best for you child, so you should make sure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Ignore Aunt Susie’s comments. Ignore anyone’s snide remarks. We have a large family and a lot of kids around the same age in the various branches of our family tree. There is going to be comparisons made. Don’t let any comments or comparisons get you down (or in my case, riled up). You are the parent. You are the one going to every therapy, school meeting and play-date. You know what’s best for you and your child. Don’t forget that. So what if Johnny was walking at 9 months and my child didn’t walk until he was 26 months. Each kid is different.
  5. Accept help. This is the hardest one for me to follow. I really need to take my own advice here. So many times it just seems easier to do everything yourself, but the holidays are only going to be as stressful as you make them. If someone offers to wrap presents for you or watch the kids so you can get some errands done, take them up on it! If they say the infamous words, “What do you need?” Tell them. Don’t say, “I’ve got it under control.” If someone offers to help, most times, they genuinely want to help! I know it can be really hard to accept the fact you may need some help, but trust me, you will feel so much better.

Even if you don’t have a special needs child, some of these tips could apply to any family. Especially the one about nosey Aunt Susie. ;) Do you have any tips that have worked for you to avoid stress during the holiday season?

© Cheryl Casey –