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15 Holiday Survival Tips

Children With Disabilities – People With Special Needs Have a second helping of stuffing, stay up past bedtime, shop ‘til you drop and eat cookie dough right out of the bowl — it’s the holiday season! For many of us, this is a time to focus on fun, friends, and family, flipping our schedules upside-down and filling our days with excitement. But for some children, including those with learning disabilities (LD), who depend upon daily routines and careful planning of activities, times of fun and excitement can dissolve into moments of anxiety and stress before the holiday decorations are even out of the box. Sometimes we all think about throwing in the towel and just avoiding the things that make life harder. However, with careful planning and a little creativity, it can be “easy as pie” to help children with LD make the most of holiday traditions and cherished family events.

We all know that the holidays are as much about baking the cookies as they are about eating them. For the family of a child with learning disabilities, preparation for holiday celebrations (from defrosting turkeys to greasing pie pans, shopping for special ingredients and preparing favorite holiday dishes to creating decorations and setting a festive table) offers wonderful opportunities for everyone to share in the holiday spirit. The special challenge for parents is to imagine the holiday experience through their child's eyes, and find ways to help them stay engaged and have fun while anticipating and avoiding potential obstacles along the way.

For some young children, large gatherings can be overwhelming and intimidating (think: Aunt Mabel's crushing hugs or Uncle Joe's loud, outrageous and very scary stories). The child with a learning disability may find it hard to adjust to the rush of activity, new faces and unfamiliar voices, and might become fearful or over-stimulated and respond by withdrawing or acting out. And for children who have difficulty regulating attention or who have trouble with sensory integration (and, let’s face it, for everybody else as well), the exaggerated embraces and loud noises can oftentimes be very disconcerting.

So light up the fireplace, dust off the piano, and get your child in gear for the best holiday season yet! Keep your child learning and feeling great with these “Holiday Survival Tips.”

  • Holiday Survival Tip #1: A picture is worth 1,000 words

    Get that art off the fridge and into the mail! Rather than sending store-bought cards this year, let your child draw pictures or create thank you notes on the computer (instead of handwriting each one, a task which can often be difficult for a child with LD).
  • Holiday Survival Tip # 2: Give gift certificates

    Does somebody special in the life of your child need a haircut? Instead of trimming their tree, trim their hair! Gift certificates for books, restaurants, or personal services (like haircuts or nail grooming) are terrific options for teachers and special friends. These practical and easy-to-use gifts might be a welcome change from the "stuff" that often ends up as clutter or on tables at garage sales in the spring.
  • Holiday Survival Tip #3: Read, read, read!

    Leave the Christmas Carols to Dean Martin — help your child read your Christmas Carol this year. Colorín Colorado has developed this list of fun literacy activities for children of all ages and at different levels of skills development for this holiday season.
  • Holiday Survival Tip #4: Arrange a check-in signal

    Yikes! Aunt Mabel is coming in for another kiss-attack and your child is stuck on the sofa with no way out. How do you know if your child is in distress? During social gatherings, check in with your child from time to time, and arrange a special signal that will help you get each others’ attention, if needed. Good luck next time, Aunt Mabel…
  • Holiday Survival Tip #5: Make time for yourself

    As if your schedule isn’t busy enough during the rest of the year, the holidays add another layer of stuff to jam into your calendar — shopping for presents, holiday parties… it’s easy to neglect one of the most important people in your life — you! Don’t forget or neglect your own needs as you care for others during the holiday season.
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