Setting your neurodivergent child up for success in the holiday season
Updated: Feb 5
The holiday season continues! In the last blog post about the holidays, we discussed some ways that parents of neurodivergent children can prepare themselves for interactions with family and friends.
This week, we are going to talk about how parents of neurodivergent children can prepare their children for the holidays – meeting new people, going to new places, and experiencing completely new situations. We know that every child is unique…it would be impossible to create a one-size-fits-all list of tips and strategies to prepare your child for these new situations, but hopefully, you can apply these strategies and ideas to your own experiences as the holiday season continues.
Start showing your child pictures of family and friends now, who they might see at gatherings, sharing their names and perhaps something else to make them feel like a more familiar face (e.g., “This is grandma, she got you your favorite shoes!”)
If possible, video call people you’re expecting to see soon, and again, share who they are and some comments that might make your child feel a little bit of a connection to them
Discuss boundaries and expectations! Every family’s culture and traditions are different. If you know that your child’s grandparents will expect your child to greet them with a hug, and your child does not like to be hugged:
Consider talking to your family about this beforehand (e.g., “I just wanted to share that Sarah doesn’t like to be touched, so if she doesn’t want to hug you, it’s not something you should take personally. Alternatively, she loves to wave to others!”)
Practice these interactions and language that can be used with your child beforehand (e.g., “What should we do if someone wants to hug you or pick you up? We can say “I don’t want to be touched right now.”)
Setting up plans and boundaries for your child is so important.
What are you hoping they will do? – e.g. “I’d like you to come with mommy to the door to see grandma and grandpa, but you don’t have to say hello or give a hug.”
What kind of support can they expect from you as their parent? – e.g “If dad sees that you need a break, he’ll come and get you to go for a walk.”
How have you prepared others for their interactions? – e.g. “Mom told our friends how you like to play on your own sometimes, so feel free to take the space you need to play.”
Practice Scripts & Role Play
In our Halloween blog post, we talked a little bit about social stories and videos as well as role-playing. These strategies are wonderful when preparing your child for any new situation that might be overwhelming, and can help to reduce stress and feelings of anxiety leading up to social gatherings. Here is a link to a website that provides a template and guidance on creating your own social stories.
Prepare a visual schedule ahead of time
Before heading out for a new activity or before hosting an event at your house, create a visual schedule of events that your child can expect to experience (i.e., meals, opening presents, playtime, etc.) On this website, there are premade visual schedules as well as templates that you can use to create your visual schedules.
If you have the time to make schedules a few days before the event, talk about and go over the schedule with your child each day, so that they have a sense of what will happen in the future.
Prepare for the unexpected
We’ve talked about interactions/activities that you and your child can expect to take place, but what about situations that come up unexpectedly? It is a great idea to think about your child’s specific needs –
What kind of noises/lights/decorations do you know may cause sensory overload?
Perhaps plan to bring noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, etc.
Does your child have specific food preferences?
Consider this ahead of time and pack food items that you know they will eat or maybe ensure that they’ve eaten ahead of time
Does your child have a preferred toy or activity?
Don’t forget to pack your child’s “fan favorites” in case there is downtime, a car ride, etc.