Holiday Tips from DANISH to You!

In the interest of having a somewhat sane and enjoyable holiday season, we offer these suggestions:

Planning the Holidays!

When making decisions about where you'll be spending the holidays remember that a visit to a new place may create stress not just for a child with special needs, but also for you. If the place you are considering has caring individuals...those who will pamper you a bit… and if your family is comfortable in the place and with the people, then a visit may be just the right thing. But if the visit creates unnecessary stress, rethink your plan. It's okay!

If doing an entirely new activity (flying in a plane, going to a concert, etc.) give your child all the prep time and advance information you can. Take them to see the airplanes at the airport or the seats in an auditorium (DON'T forget to tell them that when their brother comes on stage to play his trombone, you don't stand in your chair and holler, "Go, David!" which is very appropriate on a soccer field, but not quite the thing at band concerts!)

Review the event and remind your family of your behavior expectations before you get to an event, even if it is not a new one. A year is a long time for a child, they forget all the specifics. Give the directions for behaviors in a positive way. ("You may have three cookies." "You may clap at the end of the concert." ) Also warn them about who will be there, how long they will be staying, etc.

Watch for time saving ideas. However, make sure the idea actually saves you time. I love cookie swaps (each person bakes several dozens of one type of goodie to exchange with others - make up trays at the swap, put them in the freezer and it looks like you did all sorts of baking. Much faster to make 10 dozen of one recipe than a single recipe of 10 things.) But for some who have a great bakery they prefer, this isn't an issue.

When making plans, make sure a tradition hasn't outlived its usefulness or fun. If you decide to change a tradition or eliminate it, make sure everyone knows that beforehand. Explain to them your reasoning, too. Don't forget to tell them the other fun things that the saved time, energy, resources will allow by changing the tradition.

THINK! Why are you doing what you are doing? Does the activity fill the need? If not, then perhaps the activity needs adjusting. If going to Grandma's has been something you usually do, but it is hard on everyone (especially Grandma or her flavorful grandchild!), then examine why you are going. If the reason for going is to show Grandma how much you value her, then perhaps going at another, less stressful, demanding (big holiday meal) time would be more welcome. Or perhaps she could come to your home, or perhaps instead of spending the night, you only plan to be there for awhile in the day, or just for breakfast or take her to a child's performance instead of the long visit, etc.

Before you promise to be or do something, give it some thought; talk to your family about it. Be aware that sometimes when we are planning ahead we get caught up in the moment and think or promise to do something that sounded like a great idea at the time but after more careful thought may have been a little out of line. Remember: The ONLY time you HAVE to be somewhere is at your own funeral and Christmas is definitely NOT that!

Honor who you are. It's okay if you don't attend every family function, every party, every concert. Those things are intended to be enjoyable…so only do the ones that will be truly enjoyable! Don't feel guilty for being a family with special needs. Know that the extra preparation and stress of an event may be much greater for parents having a child with exceptional needs. Forgo those events where you know you're all out of your realm. You might take a tip and do an "elfing" instead. (Sort of like sending warm regrets) See more about "elfing" under "Fun things to do".

Planning a party? Invite those families who also have children with a little extra "flavor" (special needs type). Much less stressful! You ALL know why!


Decorating the tree and the house and the yard and the door and the bathroom and the…


Remember what may look festive to you, may look completely overwhelming to someone with sensory integration problems. Find the happy medium. A calm child is worth not having the candy canes hung off the ceiling ;-)

Remember that all the extra decorations, food, music, smells (candles), etc. may have you or your child exhibiting more tics or stims than normal. They are often a clear indicator that life is a bit much more than they can handle. Before meltdown occurs, try adjusting the decor, treats, etc. Fine-tune what you can all best handle. Don't be tempted just to do it all or nothing. Instead, adjust your participation or environment more as you would a volume control….a little louder hear but less there, a little more base here, less treble there…

YUM YUM !!!!!!!!!!!

Eat before you go to a party so you won't be as tempted to over eat the wrong things. It's also a good plan because if there are only foods at the party that your child may (or will) not eat, then you don't have a hungry child….with the possibility of a meltdown on the way!


It's tempting to eat all that stuff that's served during the holidays, but try to stay with normal diet as much as possible. Eat your regular food first, then snack on the extras. Your meds may be in sync with your regualr diet and out of sync with the changes in diet.

Take care of yourself, too !

If something is critical to only one person see if it's critical enough to them to do it themselves! (Especially if you hate doing the thing someone else deems essential, like deep frying a turkey, etc.) Doesn't apply for things our kiddos want. This time of year what's critical to them usually seems critical to us, too. I remember having my husband (and his employees and friends) drive all over several towns looking for some sort of dump truck that a 4-year-old wanted for Christmas. Now that's critical to everyone!!! Gee, I miss those years … Come to think of it, sometimes I do things for others that I don't care much about myself. (Amazing how strong a motivator love for another person can be!) Just be sure you're not over-stretching yourself this time of year. (I know, easier said than done)

Get extra sleep before the holidays and catch naps as often during the holidays as possible. A rested person is considerably more efficient, not to mention more pleasant to be around! (Again, easier said than done, but you'll be surprised how many other people will join you in a nap, and not feel guilty since you're sleeping, too!)

Dinner time!!!

If you're having a large family meal (sit down, china, etc.) allow your children to snack ahead of time. They'll probably be more capable of eating calmly and with better control. Give them the option of being who they are. Look at the bigger picture…not finishing everything on their plate (at least they took a bite of a new food) J

Allow them to be excused when they are finished, rather than sit and wait for everyone else to finish, even the cook…who has been jumping up and down instead of eating. Let the host or hostess know ahead of time. Cue your child to thank them for the meal and request to be excused. (Suggest your child tell one food they really liked…it lets the hostess - who's also usually the cook, know that their meal was enjoyed! - go over that too beforehand, with your child.) Obviously honor who your child is, if all that is too much, just a sign of rubbing tummy (good meal) and a smile will work J

If they are trying to remain at the table, but are restless and need a brief time to be excused, let them do that. You might suggest they might like to help clear dishes, fill cups, get extra napkins, check on the rolls in the oven, etc. (whatever your child can manage safely, even a small child can usually serve rolls). Sometimes our kids just need to be busy. This lets the relatives focus on the positive traits of your child and not on the fact that, "He didn't finish what was on his plate!"

Fun things to do!!!

One of the DANISH members mentioned something her son enjoys doing…ELFING! He likes to put a little present together (food, card, etc.) then go around and leave them on the doorsteps of those whom he loves or enjoys. Perfect for a child who doesn't like personal contact but loves to show he cares. I think it's a wonderful idea!

He signs his cards, but that would decision is left to the individual elf to make J

Cookie swaps!

Doing a play together. We read the script from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever". Don't try to dress up and everyone has a part. No rehearsal needed just an evening…….and some pizza!

Don't forget !!!

Before things get crazy, make sure that you have medications to last through the holidays. Doctor's offices may close, the mail will be slower and it is nearly Impossible to get a script filled on Christmas Day!

If travelling, take an extra stash of meds with you, just in case the car breaks down, or there's a snow storm, or the airline loses your bags, or you need to tell a doctor in another town exactly what your child is taking or…

When visiting in a new place (or even an old one) identify a safe place where your child or you may go to take a break from the crowd (which may only be 2 people!) Ask your hostess about a good spot, tell her why and when it might be needed, before you show it your child.

What goes up, must come down. (Decorating is more fun, than un-decorating!)

Remember you are setting an example. If you're relaxed, your children will also be more relaxed. You're also teaching them about their own roles when they are the adult "in charge". Keep focused on the reason for the holidays. If you do that, the entire time will feel less stressed and more joyful.

Remember, you're not really in control, you just think you are! Sit back and let others take the lead whenever possible.


The members of DANISH wish you all a joyous holiday season.


DANISH (Dallas Asperger Network for Information, Support and Help) is an online support group but also has monthly program meetings in Richardson, Texas.

Visit DANISH in person or on the web at


Holiday tips collected and written by Martha Kate Downey, , moderator of DANISH, 2003

Return to homepage