The holiday season can be an overwhelming and confusing time for children with special needs. During the holidays, comforting routines and familiar structures tend to go by the wayside. School is out for an extended break. Everything is louder, brighter, and more social. Children with sensory differences are often particularly affected. 

Of course, this time of year is meant to be an enjoyable time spent with family and friends. Seeing your child struggle during what is supposed to be a fun and exciting time is extremely difficult. If your child is having a hard time with the unpredictability and excess of the holiday season, try some of these suggestions to help them participate in the festivities without the stress: 

Prepare Your Child for the Holiday Festivities

Preparing your child as much as possible for the events to come will result in more positive behavior, better engagement, and less uncertainty. A social story is a common way to prepare children with autism spectrum disorder for different events and occasions. You can use a social story to teach the child exactly what will happen at the event, as well as to let the child know your own expectations for behavior. You could also use visual cue cards, books, calendars, and even apps to help prepare your child for the upcoming experience.(1) 

You can help your child prepare for unfamiliar relatives or guests by showing photographs of the people that will be at the event beforehand.(1) Role-playing, too, can be helpful for children with autism spectrum disorder, attention disorders, and related conditions. If you know that your child struggles with a specific aspect of the holiday festivities the most, such as expressing gratitude during gift giving, then role play the experience with your child to practice the desired behavior.

Plan In Advance for Your Child’s Food Needs

Many children with special needs struggle at mealtimes. Unfamiliar foods, foods with strange textures, and being made to sit still for long periods of time can all cause problems during holiday social occasions. 

If at all possible, ask your host about the menu in advance, so that you can plan for any problems that could arise. Maybe your party host can make certain food accommodations, or perhaps you could pack your child a special meal from home. This can feel like a big thing to discuss with someone who has taken the time to invite you to a party, but letting your host know about your child’s food sensitivities will minimize surprises and prevent hurt feelings if your child doesn’t respond well to the food that is offered.(2) 

Take Advantage of Sensory-Friendly Events

Every child deserves to enjoy the magic and wonder of the holiday season. Luckily, there are sensory-friendly Santa events all across Maryland. At these events, your child can enjoy this Christmas tradition in a calm environment and take home a photo with Santa. Looking for something else to do during the winter break? Check out other sensory-friendly activities for children in Maryland. Being out of the routine of school or  stuck indoors due to the cold weather can sometimes trigger behavior problems. A sensory-friendly trip to the museum or to the movies can help prevent cabin fever and give your child something to look forward to.

Involve Your Child As Much as Possible In Holiday Gatherings

The holidays often involve sitting still or focusing attention for longer than usual periods of time. For children with ADHD or executive functioning disorders, this heightened focus on family, gifts, and socialization can make it difficult to enjoy the experience. Whenever possible, involve your child in the activities. One of the best ways to control behavior is to turn a negative into a positive. For instance, is your child having a hard time waiting for someone else to pass the gifts around? See if you can arrange for your child to help pass out the gifts, too. 

Providing your child with plenty of opportunities to release pent up energy, take socialization breaks, or simply enjoy a calming activity, like a puzzle, will also help your child to feel confident and in control during group events. 

Located in Columbia, Neurobehavioral Associates offers complete neuropsychological evaluations and consultations for children and adults. Our tests will help determine a diagnosis and offer a supportive intervention plan. Neurobehavioral Associates is a  team of highly-qualified and experienced professionals with a wide referral network. We regularly attend IEP meetings and advocate for the success of our clients. Contact us today for more information on how we can serve you. 


  1. 16 Ways to Prepare Children with Autism for Holidays. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from
  2. Morin, A. (2019, November 5). 6 Holiday Tips When Your Child Has Food Sensitivities. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from