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How to Navigate the Holidays with a Child with Developmental Disabilities

The holidays can be one of the most stressful and overstimulating times for everyone, whether you have a developmental disability or not.

During the holidays, people are visiting friends and family, attending holiday parties and tasked with the art of gift giving. It is completely understandable that during this time of excitement and change, an individual with developmental disabilities will feel overwhelmed and overstimulated.

During the holidays, it is imperative to know how to recognize the signs that your loved one with a developmental disability is feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated, as well as ways you can help prevent them feeling this way.

What are Some Signs Your Loved One Is Overwhelmed?

During the holidays, your loved one that is diagnosed with a developmental disability may start to develop some anxiety, restlessness, aggression or stress. This time is filled with flashy decorations, music, gifts, parties and different routines than what they are used to, so who can blame them for feeling overwhelmed? Knowing the signs of when they are feeling overwhelmed or sensory overstimulation can allow you to redirect them in a positive way. Signs of sensory overstimulation can be:

  • Acting out behaviorally such as tantrums, shutting down, physical aggression or verbal abuse.
  • Withdrawing themselves from family activities completely and only wanting to be by themselves.
  • Disinterest in activities that they normally would enjoy and engage in.

Recognizing these signs and symptoms of sensory overload can allow you to redirect them in a positive way to negate their emotions.

Redirection will vary based on the individual with the developmental disability but can include:

  • Taking them to their designated ‘safe place’ such as their bedroom or their favorite chair in the house that can bring them to feel at ease.
  • Engaging in an activity that he or she thoroughly enjoys and will heighten their mood.
  • Breathing exercises that will allow them to take a moment to just breathe and be present in the moment.
  • Speak with them regarding what is upsetting them and ask them to walk you through this situation so that you can avoid it in the future.

It is best to speak with your loved one’s primary care physician or medical professional team regarding the appropriate redirection activities that your loved one needs. With their help, you can find activities to put them in a better mindset to enjoy the holidays with your family.

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