NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The holidays are a wonderful time for most kids with bright lights, Christmas music, parties and visits from Santa making it fun and memorable.

But for children with special needs, these events can be extremely overwhelming.

Julie Mower, executive director of the Phoenix Center, has some tips for parents.

First, she suggests scheduling “down time.” It’s easy to get overloaded with festive preparations during the holidays, so set aside some time during the day to give your kids your undivided attention, even if it’s only five to 10 minutes.

Second, be sure to decorate carefully. Children with sensory issues, autism or ADHD can sometimes find the holidays overwhelming and stressful from a sound, sight and smell perspective. Be aware of excessive holiday lighting, heavy cooking odors and other things in the environment that might trigger your child. Make your home a sanctuary.

Plan travel carefully, Mower says. If you’re visiting friends or relatives, pack a bag with items your child finds comforting or enjoys playing with. If your child gets overstimulated, find a quiet corner or a back room and pull out the bag. If your child has sensory issues, it’s best to be prepared with your own bag of goodies for your car or plane trips.

Mower also suggests you do “practice runs” at home before visits to different environments. If you are visiting family and friends with different lifestyles, rules or preferences than your own, reviewing some of those differences at home before you visit is always a good idea. Familiarize your child with what they will be experiencing as best as you can. Assign your child a task that they feel comfortable with and can “own” can be comforting for them. Perhaps it’s greeting people at the door or walking the dog. Whatever it is, review the possible itineraries and interactions.

The Phoenix Center is a nonprofit school for individuals with autism and multiple disabilities between the ages of 5-21. The center provides education as well as therapeutic interventions.


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