5 Tips for Hosting a Child with Special Needs This Holiday Season

By Diane M. McCullom

For most people, the holidays are a joyful time spent with family and friends, though they can be quite stressful and demanding with party-attending, gift-buying and schedule-juggling. Families with children who have special needs face these same demands and more—wondering how their children will feel at social gatherings is just one of the many questions asked. If you have the privilege of hosting a child with special needs this holiday season, chances are you are wondering about some ways that you can help ease the process for these families and for yourself. We have a few ideas:

Check in with parents – Before your holiday gathering, check in with the child’s parents for a list of do’s and don’ts, traditions, food sensitivities and recommendations. This step can go quite the distance in ensuring that the child feels comfortable and at home in a new environment.

Be prepared – Organize your home in a way that provides few distractions: remove clutter, keep overstimulating items out of the central focus points of your home, have backup food that the child likes, and have fun, skill-appropriate activities and games available for the child in those moments when uneasiness or restlessness sets in.

Be flexible – You might have to throw all of that preparation out the window on a whim. And guess what? It’s OK! Be flexible enough to change your plans to meet the needs of your guests.

Teach your family – Use your experience hosting a special needs child as a teaching time for your own children or relatives to learn about awareness, difference, respect and acceptance.

Relax and have fun – A kid with special needs wants to be independent too, so let them attempt things on their own instead of immediately jumping in to help. Things might get spilled or kids might jump on your couch. As long as a safe and fun environment is maintained, don’t sweat the small stuff!

With a little preparation and an accommodating mindset for those special kids in your life, the holidays are sure to be a success for everyone this year!

Diane M. McCullom is the senior vice president of clinical operations at Dallas-based Epic Health Services, a leading provider of pediatric skilled nursing, therapy, developmental, enteral and respiratory services, as well as adult home health services, with operations in 21 states.

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