Tips for Enjoying the Holidays with Special Needs

While the holiday season can be a magical time, it can also bring unique challenges for families of children with special needs.  Events that feature loud noises, big crowds, and bright lights can be overwhelming for many children, as well as their parents!  Here are our tips for keeping the season calm and bright. 

1. Avoid Crowds 

Crowds are tough for many people, and for kids with sensory sensitivities, they can be overwhelming. Children who are overwhelmed are much more likely to melt down, misbehave, or simply freeze up.  Avoiding crowds is an easy solution. Instead of parades and big town-wide Christmas light events, consider taking a drive to see large-scale drive-through light displays. You can enjoy the wonders of the beautiful lights without the cold, noise, or crowds! Here are some local favorites:

  • Aurora Festival of Lights at Phillips Park from November 24 – December 25
  • Santa’s Rock n’ Lights Drive-Thru Light Show in Grayslake from November 17 – December 31
  • Let it Shine Light Show in Northbrook and Schaumburg
  • Willow Hill Lights Experience in Northbrook from November 17 – January 6
  • World of Illumination Arctic Adventure in Gurnee from November 17 – December 31

2. Make Adjustments 

Downsize holiday experiences to reduce crowds, noise and all the “extras.”  Instead of heading to the mall to see Santa, look for a “sensory-friendly Santa” visit.  Here are a few local sensory friendly events:

  • Enjoy the Holiday Express – Special Needs Night at Blackberry Farm in Aurora on December 1 from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. 
  • Visit Caring Santa at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg on December 3 and December 10 from 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. 
  • Visit Santa at Oakbrook Terrace on Santa Cares day on December 3 from 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 
  • Visit  Santa at his Naperville Workshop on Special Needs Night at the Riverwalk Café on November 29 and November 30 from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • Chanukah Party 2023 on December 13 from 6:15 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at Chicago Mitzvah Campaign in Chicago

3. Prioritize Your Child’s Interests  

While you cannot cater to their every need, you can show your child that their family supports their interests by picking some activities they love to include in your celebrations. That might involve spending a night watching a holiday version of their favorite show, buying wrapping paper that features their special interest, or creating a particularly sensory-friendly experience in your house.

4. Be Gentle with Yourself and Your Child

It’s normal to feel frustrated when your child doesn’t seem to “get” the holidays or appreciate all you do to make the season special. It can be equally hard to endure the stares and comments of well-meaning family and friends who just don’t understand why your child isn’t appropriately happy and engaged. Get support when you need it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help from friends or family so that you can have the experiences you need to recharge and celebrate the holidays your way.

5. Discuss Needs Ahead of Time

If your holiday plans include visits to others’ homes, contact your host ahead of time to help forecast your plans.  For example, if you may need to limit the extent of your visit or make a hasty exit, letting your host know of this possibility can eliminate hurt feelings and questions if and when you cut your visit short.  Bring screens or other entertainment to calm your child so you can have adult downtime yourself.  Don’t forget any favorite snacks or meals to avoid inconveniencing your host.

6. Hosting Someone with Special Needs

Show you care by reaching out to your guest or his or her family to ask how you can help make their visit fun and comfortable.  Ask about dietary needs, comfort with your pets, making a quiet room available for downtime or simply what a parent might need. While this may be a slight inconvenience for you to accommodate these requests, it means the world to a family to know you are thinking about their child.  You are showing empathy and kindness that will make their holiday celebration brighter!

Contact Our Team

Special Needs Planning is a unique area of law and considered by many to be highly specialized. Because of the depth of knowledge and experience necessary, the special needs attorneys at Clancy & Associates, Ltd. practice exclusively in this area of law.

Contact us for a consultation and we will promptly reply to your inquiry in 1-2 business days.

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