Critter Corner: Holiday Tips for Parents of a Special Needs Child


Dear Saki and Alley,

I recently got remarried and we are going to my sister’s house for the holidays. My new stepson, Sean, is autistic and doesn’t do well with new places or changes to his routine. Do you have any suggestions for how I can help my new husband make the holidays a happy time for him, his son, and for everyone else?

Mary Day-Forall


Dear Mary,

It can be challenging to keep some children with special needs happy during the holidays, especially those who become overwhelmed easily and others who might find the break in routine unsettling. Luckily, there are plenty of strategies that can help children with special needs have just as much fun as any child:

  • Prepare them ahead of time: A visual schedule is a good way to help someone with autism understand why and how his routine will change, allowing him to focus on the fun to come and lowering his anxiety over being in a different place with different people. Apps like ChoiceWorks and Routinely can be helpful in creating visual schedules.
  • Share a gift list with relatives ahead of time: Provide family members with ideas for suggested gifts, including something the child has seen before and loves or something similar, a book because kids should practice their reading, a sensory gift like Play Doh or indoor molding sand, or a gift that addresses one of the goals he’s working on at school or in therapy.
  • Bring a helper: If you have a sitter you trust, bring him or her along if it okay with the host. He or she could play with the child and make sure he doesn’t wander into the street (if your stepson tends to wander).
  • Let go of expectations: Don’t expect things to be a disaster, or the opposite. Help prepare your stepson ahead of time and do the best you can (within your control) to make the holiday a success. Don’t stress yourself out too much if your stepson doesn’t participate in certain family traditions. For example, if your stepson doesn’t want to eat with everybody else, it’s okay, or if he needs to take a break, let him go.

For more tips, please see the AbilityPath Holiday Survival Guide for Families with Special Needs Children.

Don’t forget to plan for your stepson with a Special Needs Trust, and make any updates to your estate planning, since you were recently remarried. We wish you and your family a very happy holiday!



Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

Leave a comment

Thank you for your upload