The holidays can be a stressful, loud, and busy time for everyone. There’s so much hustle and bustle: events to attend, family visiting, and meals to prepare. It’s next to impossible to avoid the bright lights, decorations, music, and crowds of the holiday season. We understand that although this time of year is meant for celebration and joy, it can also be a cause of worry for families expecting loved ones with special needs to arrive home for festivities associated with holidays.
Sights, smells, sounds, and social expectations cause unease in an adult or children with special needs. While no amount of preparation can make the holidays a total breeze, we have created a list of things you can do to make them easier, safer, and more enjoyable for everyone.
Create a safe place.
If your loved one is easily unsettled in noisy or bright environments, set up a safe zone for them so that if they want to, they can be alone to calm down.
This could be a room in your home they can retreat to when company is over, or an area in a family member’s home if you will be traveling to visit them.
Try to maintain a routine.
During holiday celebrations, it’s hard to keep a routine. Plans change and schedules are adjusted, which can be disorienting and confusing to a person with special needs. Many individuals with sensory issues struggle with this and tend to become overstimulated as their bodies attempt to adjust to their new surroundings.
If you anticipate that your family member may exhibit sensory seeking or avoidance behaviors, you can try to plan for this ahead of time. For example, when faced with eating unfamiliar foods during the holidays, some special needs individuals simply will not eat.
By providing them with a special sensory diet (such as preparing foods they recognize and enjoy, or taking those foods along with you to your relative or friends home), you may be able to combat this behavior, make them more comfortable, and help them to regulate their emotions.
Be aware of possible hazards.
In order to keep yourself and your family members safe, it’s a good idea to consider accident-proofing your home before having company over. One common hazard is fire, whether it’s in a fireplace to create a cozy atmosphere, lit candles around the home, or on the table.
If you worry that your family member with special needs may be tempted to touch a flame, whether by accident or on purpose, you can prepare for this. It’s possible to purchase electric flameless candles. If open flames are an unavoidable aspect of the holidays in your home, remember to keep curtains and decorations at least 3 feet away from them.
Engage in outdoor activities.
Sometimes, after being inside around tons of stimulating things – music, lights, other people’s conversations, smells – a person with special needs may just need some fresh air. From time to time, you may want to have some outdoor activities planned out for your family to enjoy together.
They may enjoy playing catch outside, going on a walk with you, or maybe even sitting in a quiet park. If they do, making a habit of doing these activities can aid in providing comfort and routine during busier days.
Provide your family member with special needs the tools to comfort them.
Sometimes people with special needs can experience emotional “meltdowns” when introduced to an unfamiliar environment. In order to comfort and center them, it can be helpful to have specific tools or items on hand. For example, a weighted blanket could ease anxiety and make them feel safe. With children, having familiar toys can also help.
Communicate your loved one’s special needs with other family members.
If you’ll be spending time with people who haven’t been around your family member often, consider letting them know beforehand that your son/daughter/aunt/cousin, etc, has special needs, and may not react to them in the way they’re expecting. This can help avoid feelings of confusion and uncertainty.
For example, you might say:
“The holidays are overstimulating for Kara. She prefers not to be hugged, she might not eat what everyone else is eating for dinner, and she may go to her room for a little while if it gets to be too noisy. I just wanted to give you this information upfront, so you aren’t surprised or offended. It’s nothing personal, we just want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible.”
You can also offer ideas to your friends and family about what the person with special needs is comfortable with. If they are more comfortable with high-fives than hugs, it’s good to give them this information ahead of time.
Contact Jeevam Therapy
for more tips and information on helping support your loved one with special needs!
The holidays are hard enough as it is (especially with the stress of a pandemic this year) and our clinic wants you to know we are available to help you and your family members navigate them.
If you have questions or would like to speak with someone at our clinic about more precautions and adjustments you may be able to make in preparation for your family member with special needs this holiday season, don’t hesitate to call us!
Our team will be happy to support you however we can to make sure this holiday experience is as enjoyable as possible for you and your family members.