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11 Challenges Kids With Disabilities May Face During the Holidays, and How to Combat Them

For some kids with disabilities, the stress of the holidays can feel overwhelming, especially for kids who thrive in routine.

Every child is different, and what works for one child might not work for another. I parent two kids with disabilities, and they seem to deal with the stress of the holidays in opposite ways. One retreats while the other becomes hyper. This is why we like to host events in our home; it keeps some things the “same.”

We reached out to the parents in our community and asked them, “What is the most challenging part of the holidays for your kids right now, and what do you do to help them through it?”

These were their responses:

1. “The change of routine. During the holidays it can be very difficult to keep the meltdowns at bay. Going to different houses with different people, smells and food. It is sensory overload. We make sure we have our ‘survival kit,’ sound-cancelling headphones, iPad with a few new apps. [We ask] the host what room we can use as a quiet place.” — MaryEllen P.

2. “I choose to stay home where it’s his comfort zone.” — Libby C.

3. “Keeping my ‘typical’ daughter busy while still tending to my son’s constant needs without a childminder, and not giving in to constant screen time. So I try to have friends over as often as possible to keep my daughter occupied in order to give my son attention and care.” — Tarryn B.

4. “Definitely the change in routine. He’s so used to getting up, getting ready and going to the door to wait for the bus for school. It’s not necessarily school he likes but it’s the routine — he knows what’s expected. To combat it I try and get him out somewhere every day. It isn’t always successful, but it’s trying to prevent the meltdowns before they happen.” — Carolyn C.

5. “For my 13-year-old with severe anxiety the holidays are a double-edged sword. She is excited and loves to give and receive gifts. But she is riddled with guilt about asking for too much. She gets overwhelmed opening presents. Many times we just have to take a break. We have a large family and everyone comes to us all day on Christmas. We allow her to excuse herself and go to her room for quiet time at anytime she needs, even if family wants her attention. We put her emotional needs first. I try to have a short planned activity every other day. And we spend time watching TV or movies cuddled up. I try to give her as much of my time as possible and reassure her that her anxiety is her super power and it makes her a caring and compassionate young lady. I also have told her she is welcome to speak up for herself if family is being to demanding of her and that I will back her up. It’s a wonderful time of year, but for her, it is simply overwhelming.” — Stephanie M.

6. “Holiday challenge: keeping the routine. We will have our wonderful extended family here. Eleven people under one roof. My daughter’s routine each day includes medications, three tube feedings, two breathing treatments, CPT for 30 minutes twice a day, time in her walker and a wheelchair for when we are out and about. She will still have therapies on the non-holiday days. I see our extended family as part of the village, and will have them be part of our daily norm. We will still have fun. I think it’s OK to be flexible. We will let the routine look slightly different during the holiday because her medical and feeding needs will still be met. Having our family’s help in care, is what helps our girl and that’s a huge blessing. It ultimately bonds her closer with those who love her so.” — Amanda B.

7. “I didn’t realize how much my daughter relied on our day-to-day routine until out of town at family’s for Thanksgiving. Giving her space to explore at her own pace is crucial, but a lot of extended family don’t understand.” — Ashley O.

8. “Biggest challenge: everything in excess. Excess scheduling, excess candy, excess parties, excess lights, music, noise, crowds, everything in excess. Our biggest relief is simplicity. Simplifying everything as much as we can. She doesn’t want to participate in the Christmas program at school, no biggie, we skip it. We do Christmas Eve at our house so we’re in control and again keep it simple. We don’t get caught up in attending all the parties, theme parks, gift exchanges, community events, school events, uncomfortable clothes, fancy photos, yada yada yada. And ya know the best part? It’s quite a gift not to care! She has given us a gift without realizing it… simple joys.” — Nikki H.

9. “There is so much extra sensory around every where that we keep our home as simple as we can while decorating for the other kids. We don’t go to other’s homes because we can’t monitor her behavior and choices or the actions of others.” — Tia G.

10. “The most challenging is the amount of people. We bring his small blanket, iPad and a small car ramp with cars. The first two is to make him comfortable and once kids see the cars and ramp, they’ll want to play with him.” — Selissa J.

11. “One of my child’s biggest challenge is waiting to open presents because she does not understand the concept of time, so we count down and we spread out the gifts for four to five days.” — AJ S.

What about you, what is your child’s biggest challenge and how do you help them cope? Let us know in the comments.

Getty image by Choreograph