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Avoid Holiday Overload for Children with Developmental Disabilities

During the holidays, over-stimulation and sensory overload can be common for children with developmental disabilities such as Autism and Down Syndrome.

With new sounds, sights, smells and experiences, your loved one may start to feel the effects of the holiday season and completely shut down. Instead of acting re-actively to these episodes, it is encouraged to try to proactively avoid these experiences as much as possible. There are a few ways you can help your loved one avoid the feeling of holiday overload. These include, but are not limited to:

    • Try not to stray too far away from your child’s normal routine. Although there may be some added activities or new activities into your daily schedule, keeping it as normal as possible can help your loved one feel more comfortable.


    • Avoid crowded places like the mall during the holiday season. Instead of bringing your child with you to the mall, try finding online stores where you can do your shopping from the comfort of your own home. The mall can be a chaotic and hectic place, especially during the holidays, and can cause your loved one to feel uneasy, overstimulated and overwhelmed.


    • Talk to them about the changes that may be on the horizon. Although they may not fully be able to comprehend the amount of changes that will be happening soon, talking to them and giving them a forewarning can allow them to take more time processing these changes.


    • Schedule outings that work best with your loved one’s timing. If your loved one prefers morning activities, it can be advantageous to schedule all holiday outings during this time of the day. This will vary from person to person and will depend heavily on your child’s routine. Keeping the new activities and outings to a specific time of day can allow them to get into a new schedule, although there may be small differences each day.


    • Speak with your family and friends regarding the outings and events that you do attend as a family. It is important to communicate your child’s needs, struggles and behaviors to the people that you will be surrounding yourself with. Not only will that allow them to know what to expect if your autistic child does become overstimulated or overwhelmed, but it can remind them that certain things may become triggers for them. If your child has certain triggers that deeply upsets them, such as bright lights or loud music, telling your hosts beforehand can help avoid any unsettling feelings for your child.


  • Decorate together as a family, how your child with disabilities prefers it. Many holiday decorations can be overstimulating with lights, sounds and smells that can make your child feel anxious or upset. By bringing the whole family together to decorate, you allow your child with down syndrome to participate in the decoration process, so they will not be surprised by them later. They may choose to decorate things a little differently and nontraditionally, but that will make it more special because it has your families touch on it.

During the holidays, it is important to make sure that your child with developmental disabilities is as comfortable and happy as possible.

During these times of uncertainty and new experiences, there are ways to help negate any feelings of anxiousness, hopelessness and anger. The holiday season should be spent enjoying your time with your family, friends and the people that meant the most to you. Happy Holidays!

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