Helping Your Special Needs Child at Christmas Time is a guest post from Christine over at Life’s Special Necessities.
Christine is a special needs mom of seven wonderful kiddos (three grown) who love to be on the go. She enjoys traveling with her family and being active. Being a homeschool mom, she is always on the lookout for an opportunity to learn something new. She also loves helping other families find easy solutions to the everyday such as parenting, saving money, special needs, homeschooling, and travel tips.
Special Needs at Christmas Time
Most little ones are getting pretty excited about a certain big man in a red suit that will be visiting us all very soon. But there are also a lot of little ones that aren’t all that excited about the disruptions – I mean festivities of this time of year. What can seem like great fun to you and me can be sensory overload to those with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder. Special needs at Christmas time can bring up all sorts of things that can make this season stressful. If you follow these simple suggestions, your Christmas can be filled with happy memories.
Sensory Friendly Santa
One of our most beloved traditions is the photo we get with Santa. We are that crazy family that gets the kids matching outfits, stands in line for hours, and takes tons of shots to get just the right photo. Well, that is until my son was born. Then we quickly realized that the matching outfit was too scratchy, the lines were too long, and there were just way too many pictures. I haven’t even started on the bright colors, flashing lights and loud Christmas music.
We would no longer show up and a huge meltdown would ensue. I don’t mean a little bit of whining. This was a full-on rolling on the floor, kicking, screaming and making a big scene kind of meltdown. The type where bystanders are shouting parenting advice and the employees are kindly asking you to leave. Not the picture of Christmas bliss that we were hoping for.
Back then, there was nothing we could really do about the sensory overload that is meeting Santa. Today there is a much better option at a lot of Santa stops. There is something called a Sensory Santa Visit. This is a time designed just for the little ones with sensory issues. There are fewer lights, the lines are shorter, and Santa is trained to be sensory friendly. I highly recommend checking to see if your local Santa has this option. If not, you may want to work with your community to start one.
Holiday Social Stories
Social stories are the language of a lot of kiddos with Autism. Back before social stories, I could say things on repeat to my son, and he would not seem to get it. Put it in simple writing, and he would easily comply. It really was like the magic language we needed to help our son navigate this world.
If you are not familiar with social stories, I recommend checking out these resources for where to purchase them or how to write your own.
Due to the nature of the season, there are potential sensory triggers literally peppering our homes and communities. This is why a “Safe Word” is so important. Have your child come up with a word (something not typical to common speech) that they can say to you to let you know they are in sensory overload. This way, if they need a break or need to leave, they can tell you in the simplest way possible and without alerting bystanders. You can also use this word with them if you see signs of overload that your child has missed.
When this word is used, carry out your sensory plan. It could be that your child will need his or her sensory toy to make it through the situation. The important thing to remember is that your child will feel much safer going into a sensory-rich environment if they know they have an easy way out.
Special needs at Christmas time doesn’t have to mean disaster or even extra stress. By following some very simple steps, your family’s Christmas can be joyous and filled with wonderful memories.