Is it the most wonderful time of the year?

Click bait? No. It is a valid question when posed from the perspective of kids with special needs or their parents.


“Yeah!! Holiday parties and birthdays and vacations!!”


“I don’t get to go outside as much for recess and I sometimes feel trapped in one place until 2:45.”

“They think they are doing things that are fun for us but it is the absolute opposite.”

“They think these worksheets are fun but they are not.”

“The decorations in the classrooms are distracting. I like to look at them and then I am not paying attention to what the teachers are saying and I get in trouble.”

“The costumes they wear make me feel weirded out.”

“Mom is doing so many other things that she doesn’t have time to do things with me.”

*quotes from real live kids with ADHD and or a learning disability


“I constantly have to worry that someone is going to give my kid some food during a holiday party that is supposedly safe for him to eat but contains something he has an anaphylactic reaction to.”

“When they have all these parties and movie afternoons and assemblies my kid has trouble getting back to work in class and just falls apart. Forget about what it is like the night before the first day back at school…and the morning of the first day of school, and that whole week back at school.”

“Thanks for the extended break everyone. I struggle daily to find something for my kids to do and honestly, they spend 6 hours or more a day facing a screen between video games, tv shows, and movies. Don’t judge me. When they do that they are not fighting, telling me they are bored, or worse, asking me to go shopping to spend their gift cards. Have you ever tried to shop with two all over the place kids in a crowded store and then have to wait on a long line to check out only to get to the front of the line and find out one of your kids would rather that other building set.”

“My child has autism. She doesn’t speak. She doesn’t play with toys. She can’t do anything by herself. It is day two of winter break and she has had three major meltdowns that lasted 2 hours each. I am exhausted. I cried myself to sleep last night. How am I going to get through the next week.”

**Real sentiments combined into fake but realish “quotes”

What is great for some is not so great for others: 5 tips for supporting others during this time of year.

On some level we have to accept that not everyone is as enthusiastic about this time of year as we may be, but there are also things we can do for those kids and parents who need extra support.

Keep things as consistent as possible and minimize the surprises

Whether you are a teacher, a principal, a school counselor, or a parent, it is easy to get swept up by the joys of the season. While it may seem like fun to have a surprise guest every day for a week, or an unplanned activity, or multiple crafts for the kids to do during the day, the breakdown in routine can make it difficult for kids to remain focused and do the things they need to do when they need to do them. Sitting down and doing a writing assignment right after the surprise guest shows up to make a craft out of icing and cookies with the class while listening to upbeat and silly holiday songs would be challenging for any student. Take a kid who has a learning disability, ADHD, or autism and it can be downright impossible. Solution: Have a consistent schedule that you follow daily. Let the kids know what is happening and what the expectation is going to be after a special visitor or activity. Write it down on the board and stick to the plan. Discuss exactly what your visitor intends to do and set a time limit. If it doesn’t seem like set up, activity, and clean up can happen in that time listframe, ask the visitor to scale back the activity a bit. At home, have a calendar or daily schedule for each day of the week. Clearly highlight special activities and prepare for those “crazier schedule” days by writing out what the expectations are for each part of the day.

Minimize your decor changes

Yes the sparkly stars made with multi-color glitter hung on shiny ribbons are festive. They are also really pretty to look at when the sun shines in the morning and are interesting to watch as the sun changes direction through the day. The uneven space between the 3 and 4th star may not bother you but could be quite nerve racking for the kid with obsessive compulsive disorder. The mechanical toy with the ice skater going around and around the rink is super fun but to the kid who wants to know how it works it is a constant distraction from hanging up their coat or setting the dinner table. In the end, ask yourself who the decor changes are really for and if a particular decoration is too distracting consider relocating it.

Give out alternatives to food or make sure you ask before gifting homemade foods this holiday.

Your cookies taste delicious. You have been told they are the best cookies ever. They are a homemade, less expensive, made from the heart gift for neighbors, friends, teachers, and family. They may also be deadly.  For families with individuals who have Celiac disease or peanut, honey, soy or dairy allergies this time of year can be downright frightening. Spare people the embarrassment of having to give back your gift, re-gift your gift, or throw away your gift by giving non-food items to any person you do not have a close enough relationship with to know their dietary and health requirements. Need something fun to give out for the classroom party? Try silly toys, decorated duct tape, or have them plant a pine tree seed!

Distribute lists of local, non-screen based, activities for parents to do with their kids during break.

You can make lists based on cost, age range, accommodations, and interests to distribute to send home with students and clients. Some ideas include indoor rope/obstacle courses, indoor rock climbing venues half-day and full-day vacation camps, family friendly hikes, local live theater, the best local hills to go sledding on, nature centers, science centers, and one of my favorite ideas- book a night a hotel with an indoor pool! It can be quite reasonable to go to a chain hotel within 20-30 minutes from your house, plan a dinner a fun restaurant and spend the night at the hotel pool.

Distribute lists of fun indoor/outdoor games that families can play together that do not require a screen.

Sometimes mom and dad need to put away the phones and tablets too. Remind them to dig out family friendly games like RummyQ, Pictionary, or UNO or to dump that bucket of Legos or blocks on the dining room table and have a family competition to build (insert animal, vehicle, food item or whatever here) out of 10 blocks or less. Let them cut out the pictures of family and friends from holiday cards to make a photo album or collage, or introduce them to bocce or lawn darts, building structures with twigs and sticks, and more. Check out one of our favorite Pinterest boards for more ideas.

I hope you use some or all of these ideas to make this time of year more wonderful for those that may not find it the most wonderful time of the year. You might be surprised how much more special this time of year becomes when you do.