Help for Our Children with “Perceptual Challenges”
Eric Nach, Ph.D., M.Ed.
Several ways for parents to help their children with “special needs” enjoy holiday festivities without flare-ups and melt-downs.
The holiday season can be stressful for our children, teens, and young adults with ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, and other special needs. Traveling and visiting relatives and friends may interrupt their day-to-day routines, and all the excitement can be overwhelming to those kids with “sensory” issues.
Follow some of these user friendly strategies to prevent holiday “blowouts” to help keep your kids feeling “grounded” and create happier memories this holiday season:
Planing Ahead with Your Child
During the holidays, routine and structure maybe greatly disrupted: Having to tolerate traveling for long periods of time by car, train, or plane; sitting politely at the dinner table for extended periods; a disruption to their eating and sleep schedule. Planning for these disruptions in routine is helpful for our children, siblings, and parents.
Include our child in creating a schedule of how the days will be spent, taking as many factors into account — parties, decorating, visiting relatives, preparing holiday treats, travel time, other people’s pets — and set up a schedule, building flexibility into it in case our child needs downtime, including some alone time.
Sketch out each phase of the holidays, including all “free” time when our child may be expected to play with other children or relatives. Now, given what you know about your son or daughter, note the activities that may be a problem for him or her.Make adjustments to the schedule if necessary, and discuss with our child the following coping strategies that may be found most acceptable.
Suggestion: If your son or daughter is on medication, talk with your prescribing doctor about possible modifications to their medication protocol during the holiday season to account for heightened anxiety, irritability, or other issues. Modifying medication may improve our child’s enjoyment of the season during this high-energy and stressful period.
Providing our child some tools for self-monitoring their emotional fluctuations can prevent an overreaction from becoming a temper tantrum. By becoming aware when they start to get anxious or frustrated or overly excited they can use techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises, taking a walk, or talking with an understanding sibling or family member, can help a child who is lit-up by a highly charged atmosphere. Also, give our child some verbal cues to keep them in a positive state of mind.
SSuggestions: When facing a crowd at a friend’s or relative’s house or the task of sitting politely at the table, whisper to him or her, “I know you can do this”, promise a valued reward for success, and do not be confrontational should they show signs of stress.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Some of our children need to practice self-monitoring and calming down at home before the holiday festivities begin. Rehearsing the “stop, relax, think” technique with a child, by modeling or role-playing a scenario that has given them trouble in the past are excellent strategies. You can teach our child to “stop and think, before reacting” or ask for help at the onset of uneasiness.
Suggestion:To minimize conflicts with siblings, peers, and others encourage our child to bring along a game or toy. Whenever possible, “buddy-up” our child with an tolerant, accepted peer or sibling.
As all of our children are unique individuals, the suggestions made here should be adjusted to best fit your specific situation.