Gobble Gobble! The holidays are creeping up on us and for many families this might be one of the first times traveling and being around a larger group of family in a while. During COVID many families did not travel for the holidays so this year might be filled with new obstacles that you didn’t have last year. Between road trips for the holidays, trying new foods at mealtime, and an overwhelming amount of people around, it’s normal for children with special needs to require extra support around the holidays. Follow along with us as we share some tips on enjoying the holidays with a special needs child.
Traveling for the Holidays
When traveling for the holidays you will probably spend multiple hours either in the car, at the airport, or crammed on a plane. To be honest, no one truly enjoys this. But for our friends with special needs and sensory sensitivities, this can be extremely uncomfortable for them. It’s important to be prepared ahead of time so that you can accommodate your child as needed during your travels. Here are some tips that will work whether on an airplane or on the road!
-Contact Your Airline: Did you know that you can contact the airline or airport you are flying with before traveling? Yup! They can often provide accommodations to help you when traveling through security checkpoints and going through long lines.
-Emergency Travel Kit: AKA a bag of your child’s favorite things! Honestly, you should have this ready at all times. Your child will get bored quickly when traveling so it’s important to have a variety of things on hand to keep them entertained.
-Pack Headphones: Noise-reducing headphones are key for children with sensory sensitivities! They are great with helping to reduce the noises around them so that it’s not quite as loud for them. They also can provide a soothing pressure that is helpful for a sensory seeking child.
Trying New Foods
Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole are just some of the few tasty foods we get to enjoy during the holidays. They also happen to be some of the most interesting textured foods! If your child is currently in Feeding Therapy at PediaPlex, ask their feeding therapist for help preparing for the holidays! We can start adding in these new food items and work on expanding your child’s taste palette.
-Let Them Cook: Involving your child in the process of cooking meals can often encourage them to try the foods they’ve helped prepare!
-Make New Recipes: In addition to letting them cook, you can also try new recipes and add in preferred food items for your child. No one said Thanksgiving always has to be turkey and stuffing! Find what works for your family and it can be a new tradition for you.
-“Pre-Thanksgiving” Dinner: Practice for Thanksgiving ahead of time! To do this just make some of the items that you know will be at dinner and let your child try them early. This will allow them to taste it and get familiar with it.
Between the airport, rest stops, and family members your child will probably start to feel a sensory overload at some point during your holiday travels. There are a few ways to prepare for this, some of which we’ve already gone over too!
-E-Troductions: If you are going to be around family members who are not familiar with your kiddo, we highly recommend sending out a quick email to them just to give them a heads up! Let them know that your kiddo might not want to be hugged, might take longer to finish an activity with playing, or whatever it might be. Encourage them to talk to their children ahead of time as well.
-Headphones! We talked about this earlier, but we cannot stress how important and handy they are! Check out this article for some of the best noise-reducing headphones.
-Helping Hand: Everyone remembers being the cool cousin or having a cousin they always looked up to. Before the big day reach out to a family member who has already bonded with your child and they feel comfortable with. Teach them a few tricks to help soothe your child so the day of they are better able to help (and maybe even give you a break!).
-Pack Familiar Items: When a child has something familiar with them they often feel more comfortable. If you are spending the night at a hotel or with family members, pack your child’s favorite blanket or stuffed animal. When it’s time to eat let them use their normal bowl or spoon so it feels more familiar to them.
-Visual Schedule: As always, we love a visual schedule! Prepare a visual schedule for the day so that your child can prepare for what is coming next. You can even run through some social stories to better help them prepare for what is to come. This can help them feel more comfortable in a situation that might typically be over stimulating for them.
The holidays are always such a fun time for all, so we hope these tips help with your upcoming holiday plans! When planning for travel be sure to always let your therapist know so that they are able to help work on social stories, introduce new foods, and work on calming techniques.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!
-The PediaPlex Family