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Ways to Enjoy the Holidays with Children with Special Needs

Plus, Fun & Safe Holiday Activities

This time of year is usually filled with joy—parties, parades, music, and family gatherings. However, 2020 will look different as we all try to create cheer and memories for our children amid a pandemic. The challenge is heightened for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and other developmental delays. 

Though, silver linings come in all shapes and sizes. A typical year might be challenging for some children with special needs. Events that feature loud noises, big crowds, and bright lights can be overwhelming, so this year might be an opportunity to enjoy the holidays in a new, “quieter” way. 

We’re here to help you make the most of the holiday season and give your kids memories that aren’t influenced by the challenges of a pandemic.

Below are a few tips and activity ideas to make the season a little brighter for parents and children with special needs. Depending on what state you live in, there are various COVID-19 restrictions. This article provides some “general” ideas for activities. Please check with your local businesses and networks to know what is open. 

Tip: Give Yourself a Break

Before you think about activities, take a breath, and give yourself a break. Your child might not “get” the holidays or appreciate all you do, but focusing on the positive will benefit you and your family. Remember, you have the power to change your perspective or how you react to a situation. 

Visit a Local Nursery

Instead of making the trek to a possibly crowded mall or retail store, visit a local nursery where lights and greenery create a cozy wonderland. 

Holiday Light “Night Walks” or Neighborhood Drives

Call a walk to look at holiday lights a “night walk,” and your kids might see it as a memorable adventure. Pack up the hot cocoa and pass out some flashlights. Neighborhood walks are casual; you can walk away when you need to, and they don’t have to involve crowds. The same applies to a drive around the neighborhood. Talk to friends and use community resources to find neighborhoods and sights that might be of interest.

Visit Holiday Displays During Off-Hours

Take a stroll to view holiday displays and window decorations during off-hours and make the moment more intimate. No crowds, just a wide-eyed child. Think about visiting the displays first thing in the morning when no one else is up. 

Tip: Make Adjustments

This year isn’t like most. If you’re the type of family that goes big every holiday season, that’s probably off the table in 2020. Instead of a day spent shopping and taking pictures with Santa or going to dinner, then the Nutcracker, think smaller scale and avoid the crowds. 

Holiday Scavenger Hunt

Delight with a game that takes everyone outdoors on an adventure. A holiday scavenger hunt can bring some variety to your holiday. Customize your own game or print out cards at Play Party Plan, and get tips on how to execute a fun holiday hunt. 

Create Special Wrapping Paper

For the children who enjoy sensory play, find a big roll of paper, washable pens and paints, and let your child explore. Then, use the paper to wrap gifts for the family. Your child will feel special because they provided their personal touch to the gifts. 

Loosely Wrap Gifts

Some children struggle with dexterity. Make their gift-opening experience 100-percent enjoyable by loosely wrapping gifts and limiting use of tape and ribbons.  

Tip: Take Two Cars

Taking two cars on an excursion will benefit the entire family. If you need an escape plan for your child with special needs, you have it. Having another vehicle allows the rest of the family to stay and enjoy their time if they want.

Give a Special Tree, Menorah, or Kinara

Scenario: Your child wants to decorate group ornaments by type. That control could interfere with siblings’ share in the fun. If so, give the child his/her own tree and let their vision soar. 

Scenario: Your child likes to blow out the menorah or kinara candles, interfering with candle lightings. Go electric or give the child his/her own fireless candles.

When it comes down to it, the holidays are a great time to spend with people you love. Your family circle may look smaller this year, but it’s no less meaningful. Enjoy the simple stuff. 

Happy holidays from the Constellation ABA and SBT teams!

More Resources:

Resources for Parents of Children with Special Needs During COVID-19

3 Advantages of ABA Therapy for Children


Constellation School Based Therapy & ABA has partnered with private and public schools, school districts, and early childhood development programs for over 20 years to provide evidence-based behavior, occupational, physical therapy solutions, and management consulting services in Connecticut.

We also offer in-home applied behavior analysis (ABA) in Connecticut as an evidence-based approach for autism treatment. Through our customized programming, we work with children to improve development and focus on expanding cognitive, language, and adaptive skills.

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