3 Tips to Structure the Holidays for Your Child with Special Needs

As the countdown to the holidays begins, you will likely be wondering how you are going to get it all done on top of your already busy schedule. The holidays can be a challenging time; routines may be changing which can cause stress or induce anxiety in children with special needs.

Andee Morris, M.Ed., an Educational Consultant at the Watson Institute, will share strategies to structure your holidays to reduce the stressors for your child with special needs.

1.Pre-Plan What You Can
Create a simple schedule for your child about what will happen over the holidays, such as activities or events. You may want to include visuals or pictures throughout the schedule. This will help your child understand what to expect and it will provide helpful visual cues.

Use pictures and words to describe each activity outlined on the schedule. Review it in advance with your child, then again on the days with holiday activities planned. Cross off each activity as it happens so your child can follow along and know what is coming next.

2.Offer Structured Choice Options
Structured choice options give your child a sense of control over a situation by providing choices (any of which are approved/suggested by you!). These are used to prevent and diffuse interfering behaviors.

For example, if you’re sitting down to a meal with family but your child would rather play, you may ask them which toy they would like to play with after they are done eating, providing two options from which to choose. Continue asking questions and providing structured choices to redirect your child’s attention away from the problem (sitting down to eat rather than play) and to the solution (getting to play after the meal).

3.Use Behavior Stories
Behavior stories (also called social stories) help to set expectations for what will happen during a holiday event or activity. A behavior story is a simple description of an everyday social situation, written from a child’s perspective. In a behavior story, the situation would be described with a focus on social cues and the schedule of events that will occur. Practice the story with your child before the event so they know what to expect.

Want to learn more? You might also enjoy:

Preparing for Visitors at the Holidays

Ideas and Templates for Social Stories