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Holidays Tips for Neurodivergent Children and Adolescents

The holidays can bring wonderful memorable moments together but also create moments of stress for families with neurodiverse children and/or adolescents. With some planning and support you can create a smoother and happier holiday season. Here are some tips:


The holiday season is steadily approaching! Reading this can invoke feelings of anxiety, excitement, and/or an uneasy feeling of expectations to fulfill. While we all have a variety of ways we cope with the unpredictability of the holidays, we may agree that the holidays are a time when we may need an increase of support and compassion from others. This is especially true for neurodivergent children and adolescents (i.e. Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, dyslexia). The holidays can be intense and unpredictable. Some may be sensitive to textures and sound, therefore, they may experience difficulty with eating certain foods, wearing clothes they consider uncomfortable, hate getting their hands wet or dirty, or are unable to tolerate bright lights.



We all deserve to use the holidays as a time to recharge, establish what we need, and/or spend time together with chosen others. Each person is different and it is best to remember that you know the needs of your loved one best.

From a social standpoint, your child may prefer to play repetitively with one game and find it difficult to shift their attention to another game. They may also impulsively interrupt a conversation, need reminding about the loudness of their voice, and may find it challenging to engage in two-way interactions and/or conversations. Keeping these considerations of your child in mind, it may be important to craft an environment for your child and/or adolescent that is suitable to their unique needs. Some difficulties your child and adolescent may encounter during the holidays may be invoked by changes in routine, feeling socially overwhelmed, and not feeling that they have a sense of control.


Here are some tips that may be helpful for you and your loved one during this time:


1. It is essential that the child and/or adolescent has a space for them to be themselves. This can include a physical space, toy, and/or some form of creative expression. This can provide a sense of control during an uncertain time.

  • Having a physical space to utilize that is quiet and uncrowded may be helpful. They can use this space to explore and de-stress their bodies.

  • For those who are sensory-sensitive, be mindful of textures, lights, and sounds in rooms that they isolate themselves to.

  • For those who are sensory-seeking, you can seek out a room or space that has textured furnishings, floor/wall coverings, and accessories.

2. Developing a list of four or more coping skills to rely on when they become overwhelmed.

  • This can include 30 min of unstructured outdoor play, taking deep breaths, creating art, or assisting them in verbalizing what they are feeling.

  • Allowing a favorite toy/technology that they can keep with them when feeling socially or emotionally overwhelmed.

3. Establishing a routine (a visual may be helpful).

  • Creating a fun calendar together that provides details (time, people, places) of the holiday week. In the calendar, you can include break times where the child/adolescent knows they are able to be independent and not have expectations placed upon them.

4. Doing a role-play to assist in discussing expectations and coping skills.

  • You can develop a theme that the role play can center around such as, plane ride, unfamiliar foods, and/or interacting with cousins.

What can be encouraging and uplifting during this time:


1. Creating something together as a family that is meaningful, informative, and/or just fun!

  • Create decorative ornaments.

  • Create a social story together about the holidays. This will assist in explaining and providing a collaborative visual on what to expect during the holiday time.

  • Planning a special event during the holiday that may just include you and the child/adolescent. This can also be used as a reinforcer for behavior.

  • Create a sensory travel kit. This can include fidget toys, earbuds/headphones, weighted blanket, play-doh, a textured item, and scented items (lip balm, essential oils).

2. The holidays can be a time for the child and/or adolescent (and everyone else) to learn healthier and more engaging ways to interact in their world.

  • The child and/or adolescent may learn more about turn-taking, following directions, and worrying less about the outcome. Reminding oneself that this is not about preventing or fixing any situation or person but more about what can be gained and/or learned during this time.

  • The child and/or adolescent may find coping skills that are less isolating for them, such as more outdoor activities with others and establishing a shared interest with another family member, such as a board game.

We all deserve to use the holidays as a time to recharge, establish what we need, and/or spend time together with chosen others. Each person is different and it is best to remember that you know the needs of your loved one best.


As a parent and/or caretaker, your child’s needs are important but it is also essential to remember you have needs also. Be kind towards yourselves by setting limits on the number of family members you will see in a day, focus on what is most important to you, and plan one thing for yourself that is relaxing and exciting.


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