Special Needs and the Holidays

December 18, 2018
Written by:
Jamie Gaddy

Let’s face it, in addition to being a joyous holiday season, Christmas can be extremely stressful for everyone. When you have a child with special needs it can be even more challenging, especially for that child. Their senses can become overloaded with bright lights, festive music, and different smells. Not to mention that the holidays can mean a whole lot of change in routine which can totally turn a child’s world upside down. Still, there are things you can do to make this time of year easier on your child which, in turn, will make it easier on the entire family.

Stick to the routine as much as possible.

This may seem impossible with holiday shopping, baking, special events, and traveling; but there are things you can do to make the excitement more doable for your child. Try to stick with their normal sleep/wake times and naps if they still take one. Make sure they have any comfort objects they normally enjoy included while traveling along with some favorite snacks and drinks for the road. For an older child, you could make a list of what will happen throughout the day so they can see, and perhaps not be as unsettled over a change in their routine.

Communicate with family.

Especially with the family that you may not see often, talk to them before traveling and let them be familiar with what the care of your child entails. It may seem like you are imposing, but it is much more comfortable for everyone around to know what to expect along with some possible ways they can help to make the visit a positive experience.  People will want to help, let them, if they are able to. Make the family aware of any dietary restrictions or issues. This is not so they will cater completely to your child’s diet, but instead, they will know not to offer certain foods to your child. Traveling to see family or friends is a good way to bring the family together to connect with loved ones who live far away.

No one knows your child better than you.

As their parent, you have spent a lot of time with your child, at doctor appointments, therapy appointments, and through the daily events of life. You know how much change and excitement that your child can handle. When things may seem to be taking a bad turn, have a quiet place that your child can go to escape the excitement for a while. Be realistic with how much they can handle to make it as positive of an experience as possible.

Special events tailored to Special Needs.

More and more places are being inclusive to individuals with special needs, so be on the lookout!. For your child that wants to visit Santa without a crowd or line, you might be able to find an event near you that has an Autism-Friendly Santa. Even if you are unable to find such an event, as a homeschooler it is easier to go for a visit during non-busy times.

Do not forget the needs of siblings.

Of course, this isn’t to say that you will be leaving your other children out of the fun. Instead, be aware that having a sibling with extra needs during the holidays (and every day) is often more difficult and challenging for them too. Have a plan in place during special events so siblings are able to stay and enjoy the fun. If there is an event your special needs child cannot attend but another child wants to, then find a way to make it happen. Get creative. They are only young for a short time and happy memories are so important!


It sounds simple to most, but to those of us that have special needs children, we can forget about ourselves. To take care of our family well; we need to take care of ourselves. Things do not have to be perfect…and they won’t be. Simplify the holidays to allow alone time for yourself even if it is just 5 minutes! Your family will benefit!

For more great articles, tips, and resources visit our Special Needs Homeschooling section.


Jamie Gaddy

Jamie Gaddy, B.S., M.Ed., Ed.D. has been a college education professor for over 17 years. Education has been a part of her life in both the classroom and as a principal. Six children later found her dissatisfied with traditional school and homeschool became the better fit. She is also a pastor’s wife, editor, and entrepreneur who now homeschools four of her six children in Georgia. Jamie loves to share about her homeschool experience to help other homeschoolers find success. Connect with her at [email protected].