Celebrating holidays with family and friends can be challenging. There may be more people, sounds, visual stimuli, and expectations. Many families experience heightened stress around the holidays, especially if you have a child with special needs. Here are some strategies that may be helpful to remember when celebrating during this holiday season.
If you are traveling by train, bus, or airplane, it is important to research certain information prior to your trip. It may be helpful to call ahead and find out wait times, what waiting areas are like, traffic conditions, possible detours, places to sit, places to eat, location of bathroom, when rest stops will be, etc. If you are travelling by car, look ahead for traffic and construction. Waiting is a difficult skill for many individuals with special needs (and for some individuals who do not have special needs too!). Some facilities (such as amusement parks and airports) may offer shorter wait times or early board times with appropriate documentation.
Pack, pack, and pack! Pack even if you are just traveling a short distance or you are not traveling at all. Have reinforcers, toys, books, and snacks available at all times. These can be lifesavers at a holiday gathering. It is also important to bring any behavior plans, coping skills charts, token economies, and communication assistance devices. If you child engages in dangerous behavior (e.g., eloping, unsupervised cooking, fire playing, etc.), make sure to have preventative measures in place in each new setting. Your child will still need support (and maybe a little extra support) when celebrating with family and friends.
Decide in advance how you would like to communicate information about your child and his/her needs to friends and family. Your doctor may have brochures you can share, depending on how detailed you would like to be. It is helpful to let other individuals know what modifications may be made and how your child may respond. Many families find it helpful to work out a plan in advance for responding to challenging behavior, should it occur in the presence of new people or people your child is not with very often.
Even though the holiday season can be stressful, remember to “be” (see November’s blog). Have fun with your child. Let them know they are loved and will be safe and you are both prepared to handle challenging situations.
Remember, you will never be able to predict everything. Sometimes a monkey wrench is tossed into the situation. Model good coping skills when this happens. Change can be OK and growth may even occur when challenges are experienced.
Warm Wishes for a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!