Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Holidays should be fun - not stressful!

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Many family caregivers of children with special needs struggle with trying to follow holiday traditions given the other stressors in their lives.  Here are some ways to make this time of the year easier for families.

It doesn’t need to be the same 

Family caregivers need to realize that their children can participate in holiday festivities but maybe in a different way than has been traditional.  Like school, holiday activities can be modified to accommodate the special needs of their child. 
v   If your child is on a special diet for medical reasons, find out what is being served ahead of time and bring a “safe” version so your child can still eat what everyone else is having.
Photo www.nhs.uk     
v  If going to a religious service, bring a comfort item like a stuffed animal or a quiet activity like a coloring book to keep the child entertained.
                                             Photo www.idahofederation.org 
v  Make sure ahead of time that the venue (if it’s somewhere you’ve never been) is physically accessible for people with disabilities
                                             Photo www.nlfolk.ccom
Ways to decrease “meltdowns” 
Many children with special needs become overwhelmed by sensory issues (sights, sounds, even smells.)  When children with disabilities get to the point of “too much”, often they act out as a way to communicate.  There are things parents can do to reduce sensory over-stimulation and avoid these behaviors. 
Ø  In a crowded event, sit or stand on the outside of the crowd to reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.  Even if the child can only participate for a short time, it’s better than not at all.
Ø  If your child is sensitive to noise, bring headphones. 
Ø  If your child is overly sensitive to light, bring sunglasses. 
Ø  If possible, find a quiet corner away from the main activity so the child can calm down and rejoin later. 
Ø  Some children even get overwhelmed by opening too many gifts.  Open one or a few and save the rest to spread out over several days instead of all at once. 
Ø  Social Stories will help prepare the child about what to expect.

                                                  Source:  www.setbc.org 

Most people will understand if the child with disabilities doesn’t act perfectly.  If extended family members insist on traditions such as sitting at the table, parents can take turns eating.  If grandparents or others still don’t understand, it may be necessary to make a separate visit with just the family and grandparents in a smaller group to keep things are calmer.  Family caregivers need to remember that special needs don’t go away just because it’s the holidays! 


Surviving the Holidays with your Sanity Intact (One Place for Special Needs)

Enjoying The Holiday Family Gathering With Your Special Needs Child (Delaware Family-to-Family Health Information Center)

Reduce Holiday Stress with Proper Nutrition and Health Promotion (National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability)

Social Stories

For Caregivers

10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays (AARP)
Spanish http://www.aarp.org/espanol/hogar-familia/prestar-cuidados/prestar-cuidado/info-11-2013/consejos-estres-cuidadores-amy-goyer.html?intcmp=AE-HOME-TOSPA-TOGL

Caregiving and the holidays: from stress to success! (Family Caregiver Alliance)
Caregiver’s Guide for Managing the Holidays (Caregiver Alliance-Boston)http://www.caregiveralliance.org/news/holidayguide.pdf
Remain Hopeful,
Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (www.spanadvocacy.org), a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at www.familyvoices.org or FB www.facebook.com/pages/Family-Voices-Inc-National/137783182902269.  She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at http://caregiveraction.org/ or FB www.facebook.com/CaregiverActionNetwork.


  1. The tip about bringing a “safe” version of holiday food is FANTASTIC. I cannot say enough good things about this and the positivity surrounding it. The holidays can be a stressful time of year for anyone, but children tend to have their own stress, and take on the stress of adults as well. But with careful care and consideration, there is no reason this can’t and won’t be a joyous season for everyone!

  2. The tip about bringing a “safe” version of holiday food is FANTASTIC. I cannot say enough good things about this and the positivity surrounding it. The holidays can be a stressful time of year for anyone, but children tend to have their own stress, and take on the stress of adults as well. But with careful care and consideration, there is no reason this can’t and won’t be a joyous season for everyone!

  3. Thanks for your kind words! Yes I agree, the key is to minimize the stress on the children, making it easier for the whole family.

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  5. Wonderfully said! It's important to plan ahead and set guidelines and expectations... As a teacher, these worked for me with my students as well. At the request of some of my parents, I wrote and illustrated a book about social skills. It's complete with activities to help reiterate the skills introduced. It's on Amazon and createspace.com and the title is Private Peter's Social Skills. While I didn't use board maker, I did illustrate for visual learners. I have worked in self-contained units for 10 years, that has given me insight. I totally agree with you on inclusion and being able to let them share in activities around this time of year, especially!

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