Tips for hosting family with Special Needs for the Holidays

My Son at Christmas
My Son at Christmas

During the holidays families with Children of Special Needs have a very hard time.  They often want to be included in the family get-togethers and traditions, but they might not be the best plan for their child.  Sometimes this means they will turn down invitations, to keep from feeling awkward when things don’t go as planned or to make a difficult season as easy and enjoyable as possible for their child.

If you are hosting, these are some of my tips to make the time a little easier on them.

Always, the best thing you can do is to ask them what would help make their time as enjoyable as possible.  Let them know that you understand that they might not be able to participate the way they would have in the past and you just really want to be as supportive as possible.

  • Travel: If possible get them to come down a day or two early even if only one parent can accompany them. This will give them time to transition to the new environment and hopefully the travel will be a little less hectic for everyone.
Sometimes it takes a while to convince my son to use a new washroom, trust me you don’t want a house full of people during this process.
  • Have a place for the family member with special needs to decompress. The plainer (probably) the better, avoid holiday lights and over decorating. They will be happy to have somewhere they can go if they become overwhelmed. Let other family members know they may go there for quiet time.
Think of it like this: how would you feel after the longest day having to go into a big fun house with bright lights, loud music, people  jumping out at you… and you already have a migraine?
  • Food: This one is a biggy. Ask their parents in advance for any tried and true recipes or favorite foods. Try to have stuff on hand that they will eat, but let their parents know there is no pressure to eat the holiday meal.   It can be an overwhelming day and trying to get any food into them much less new foods may be asking too much. I feed my son leftovers on holidays that I deliberately make the night before because I know he won’t touch turkey or the rest of the holiday meal.
  • Noise: if you have them, let the family know that there is noise cancelling head phones available, or remind them if they use them they might want to bring them. My son can be often found with his hands over his ears, it has gotten better, but for really loud days we like to have them available.
  • Texture: if they have sensory issues that making unwrapping presents difficult, consider gift boxes, bags or my personal favorite, putting them in a pillow case.
Remember above all, this is your family. You love them, and while holiday traditions may have to be shifted a little the most important tradition is the Love. Give them as many hugs as you can and tell them what a great job they’re doing. That goes extra for their parents.