The Holidays with a Special Needs Child (part 2)

We posted this on our Facebook page around Thanksgiving, but we think it is worth repeating. Article from

Special Needs ChristmasHolidays have always been times that families join together to share in traditions. Family traditions promote positive emotional development in children. They help children feel connectedness to others and develop a family’s sense of identity. Whether your family is traditional, blended, or non-traditional in any way, traditions can build relationship and strengthen bonds to last a lifetime. Your family can be creative in accommodating special needs in your traditions.
Traditions can be as traditional or diverse as families themselves. Consider each family member’s needs and values. Think about values you want to promote as part of your family’s identity. When your family includes children or adults with special needs, it is important to choose activities that everyone can enjoy. It is also important not to feel as if you have to do things the way everyone else does if it would be stressful or difficult for your family. Doing what works for you can reduce stress and helps create memorable traditions that everyone in the family can enjoy.

Tips for Developing Traditions with Special Needs Children:

  • When planning a meal for a child with food allergies or other special diet needs, try to offer several choices of special foods for the child if possible. Serve the special foods in festive dishes so your child sees his food as special too.
  • Share special family stories and memories, and be sure to include the special needs child as well as others.
  • If your child has difficulty sharing stories because of language issues, allow him to show pictures of happy events or times that were special for him.
  • Consider doing something special for others as part of your celebration. Have each person donate used items to charity, make a donation in the family’s name, donate food to a homeless shelter, or make cookies for neighbors.
  • Have each person share something they are thankful for, or share something they appreciate about the family. Again, help children with language issues share so that others can understand.
  • Read stories about the holiday together. Choose books with illustrations and words that your special needs child can understand.
  • Be sure to take pictures of everyone, and display them for everyone to see. After the celebration, help family members place photos in scrapbooks.
  • Watch a holiday movie together.
  • Include your children in decorating for the holiday. Provide your child with some appropriate choices for decoration, and allow her to choose what to display and where.
  • Allow your child to participate in food preparation, setting the table, and clean up as her ability levels allow.
  • Hold family meetings to plan activities and get everyone’s ideas for traditions.
  • Include your child in making invitations and sending thank you notes. If your child has writing difficulty, allow him to use stamps, color designs or images, or decorate with embellishments that are appropriate for his age and developmental level.
  • Keep realistic behavior expectations, and plan alternative activities for your child when she needs a break from others. Know your child’s limits, and ensure adequate nap time or time away from the noise and stimulation that sometimes comes at family gatherings. Learn other ways to manage behavior at family gatherings.

Published by Life Without Limits: UCP of Orange County

The mission of UCP of Orange County is to help children with disabilities reach their full potential and improve the quality of life for their families.

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