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Ten Tips for Less-Harried Holidays for Kids with Special Needs

December 2012

December is an amped up time of year. Between the decorating, gifting, hostessing and general mostesting, it can rattle the most jolly of souls. For kids with autism, anxiety or other Special Needs, this time of year can be downright daunting.

Following are a few tips from area experts on how to calm the chaos for your child this December.

Take it one day at a time. "Focus on what's going on that day versus stressing about what's coming up in the future," said Sheila Habarad, clinical director for Behavior Analysis Center for Autism in Zionsville. She says a lot of children don't know what to expect at holiday gatherings or understand how long the event is going to last. Helping your child focus on that day's activities may alleviate some anxiety.

Plan the road ahead. Jane Grimes, enrollment director for the Applied Behavior Center for Autism, suggests planning out trips in advance so you can provide a visual schedule for your child on what things you are going to do as well as some pictures of the people your family will be visiting over the holidays.

Prepare hosts. Be upfront with hosts about your child's needs advises Mary Rosswurm, executive director of Little Star Center. If your child is likely to need a quiet place for refuge during an evening at auntie's house, then ask auntie in advance if she can make a bedroom available to accommodate your child. Let her also know of any special nutritional requirements your child has so she can cook or cater in according to your child's needs or you can bring along special food. Prepare so there is a plan in place before a crisis occurs.

Prepare your child. "Read books about going to grandma's house and engage in activities related to grandma's house," said Habarad. She suggests making grandma, or whoever is hosting the gathering, a present so your child and grandma will have something to talk about.

Be on time or early. Arriving early or right on time to the gathering, event or holiday outing can help families avoid some chaos.

Bring a few of your child's favorite things. Attending a party with lots of people, noise and expectations can be hard for many kids. Help your child cope by bringing a few of his or her favorite things such as a beloved blanket or iTouch.

Enlist peers for support. Grimes suggests asking cousins who are patient and perhaps a little older to help show your child how to do activities others are engaged in or to just sit on the floor or at the table with your child playing a game or coloring.

Get some shut eye. Life with a well-rested child is much saner than life with an unrested child. Parents know it. Kids know it. Stick to a sleep schedule and bedtime routine as closely as possible and looming chaos will be more controlled. Mind your sleep needs too.

Have a sitter on speed dial. Sometimes your child is having a bad day. Sometimes the event is too overwhelming for the entire family to attend. That's okay. If you are comfortable leaving your child with a sitter, then sometimes that is the best option for everyone.

Relax. "It's not a teaching time. Don't look at it as an opportunity to teach your child to play with his cousins. Just make it through the day. If he wants to play video games by himself let him. So many times as good parents we think we have to put on a show, but the holidays are not a great time. Everybody wants to make it out alive," Rosswurm said. After all, it's a parent's holiday to enjoy too.

Tags: In This Issue, Parenting, Special Needs

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