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Esther Leung
BY Esther Leung

15 Tips To Prepare Your Child With Special Needs For Winter Break

The holiday spirit is in the air. The commercials for toys bombard us every day.  The cards and invitations for gatherings arrive in our in-boxes and mailboxes.  All of this means the winter break is right around the corner.

Here are some survival tips to help make winter break a little easier and exciting for your child with special needs.

School Countdown

As much as educators do their best to maintain structure for their students, the excitement of the holidays and a couple weeks off is hard to contain in all the children and staff.  There are concerts, plays, toy drives, and special events for your child to process. Lesson plans tend to change as there are usually special activities and games.

The meaning of the holidays can be abstract and difficult for a child with special needs to comprehend. Here is what you can do to make it easier.

1. Prep your child ahead of time about the updated  school schedule and special events.
2. If possible, have pictures or social stories about what your child can expect.
3. Practice and rehearse what is going to happen, especially if your child is going to be a part of a presentation.
4. Talk to the teachers and assistants about how your child is going to participate and confirm that supports are in place to help your child succeed.
5. You may want to plan for a quieter evening after the event, so your child has a chance to decompress from the excitement.

Schedules and Calendars

The holiday season brings a big break in routine taking a child with special needs out of their comfort zone. Try and compensate by:
1. Relying heavily on visuals. This will help your child understand what is going to be happening
2. Count down the number of days before school ends and when school is about to start back up again.  This gives your child an awareness that there will be a change in schedules.
3. A daily calendar can be very helpful during the winter break, especially to help your child anticipate any parties or family gatherings that you may be going to.

It is understandable that the family routine changes during the holidays. Bedtimes are later, naps may not be on schedule and there is no set schedule. Make sure you start getting back into your daily routine a few days before school starts so that the adjustment in January is a little easier.

Visiting Friends & Family

Visting friends and family will always pose a challenge. Some parents insist on hosting instead of visiting a place that is unfamiliar to there child.

If you are going to a relative’s house:

1. Prepare a social story so your child knows exactly what to expect.
2. Make sure you prepare your child with special needs to travel.
3. Bring activities that your child is familiar with and enjoys doing. This will give him/her a sense of comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.
4. Speak to your hosts and arrange a quiet spot for your child to retreat to if the activities are too overwhelming.
5. If your child is weary of large groups and attention, give relatives a heads up about approaching your child all at once.
6. Arrive early to set up and get comfortable or slip in quietly through the back before letting your family’s presence known.
7. Give yourself some permission to leave early if needed.

Holidays can be a wonderful and memorable time for children.  It is important for all children to feel included and excited about the experiences during this time.  Hopefully some of these ideas will provide ways to create special memories as a family.  Wishing you an enjoyable and a stress-free December!

Esther Leung

Written on December 4, 2012 by:

Esther Leung is a special needs consultant who has worked with children, youth and families. She has 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including homes, childcare, schools and recreational settings. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and 2 young boys.