17 Easy Tips for a Wonderful Holiday Season as a Parent of a Child with Special Needs

17 Easy Tips for a Wonderful Holiday Season as a Parent of a Child with Special Needs


Holiday crowds, large family gatherings, and traveling may overwhelm your child with special needs.

Here are some suggestions to help during the holiday season.

Create a Plan

  • Find Sensory Friendly Events: Your child will feel comfortable and you can relax knowing everyone understands
  • Choose to go at off-peak times: When events are less crowded and more predictable
  • Establish a break space: A comforting area where your child may go, away from guests or from other stressors
  • Create a “home base” when you arrive: Suggest family visit you here one at a time, so the child does not become overwhelmed
  • Leave when things are going well: End on a positive note and designate someone to say goodbyes for the family if you need to leave suddenly
  • Pack a travel bag: Include fun activities for your child and don’t forget to charge all devices!

Prep & Practice

  • Speak with family ahead of time: Prep them with what will help your child adjust to the new setting
  • Review what to expect: Social stories can help explain what might happen in a new situation, who will be attending the event, and what activities will be available. Share family photos of any unfamiliar relatives or home movies from past family events.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Then encourage your child to use techniques like deep breathing, positive thinking, or squeezing a stress ball.
  • Accept help: Say yes when friends and family offer to watch your child so that you can eat. It will give them a chance to bond, and you get to visit with friends and family.


  • Prep for flying: Call the airline ahead to let them know you are traveling with someone who has a disability. Be sure to ask about their policies and the specific number to call if you run into a disability-related problem. Use TSA Cares (855) 787-2227 for additional assistance during the security screening process.
  • Go over travel expectations: If you are traveling long distances for the holiday, tell your child what to expect when waiting in line at the airport or during holiday traffic.
  • Bring a travel bag: Include activities or toys that your child can use during loud and overwhelming situations. Make sure to include comfort items.

Consider Alternatives

  • Bring your child’s favorite choice of food to holiday gatherings. It’s OK to go to McDonald’s on your way there!
  • If traveling long distances may not be right for your child, stay home and play games or watch joyful holiday movies.
  • Have your child help you bake holiday treats or make fun arts and crafts activities.
  • Look for holiday-themed shows or activities related to their favorite topics.

The Holiday spirit can be found
when you do what works best for your family.