Supporting Persons with Developmental Disabilities During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is magical in many ways. However, it can also be very stressful, especially for individuals with developmental disabilities. 

There is so much stimulation, so many new things to look at and often, there are deviations in daily routines that can become a significant source of anxiety. Visits from unfamiliar extended family members, schedule changes, and unexpected events can bring about changes in behavior and attitude. 

Even so, there are many things you can do to help to make the holidays a safe, fun, and positive experience for everybody involved, and this is an area in which you can really make a difference.

How to Talk to Extended Family

Extended family members are often the most challenging. Some may not fully understand the extent of your loved one’s disability. As a result, they might overcompensate or overcomplicate situations.

Ultimately, it is your job to educate them, and it’s usually best to do that before you arrive, just so everybody knows what to expect, what’s okay, what’s not okay, and so on. 

You might also send out a message before seeing your clan to let them know things about the individual. Details can include what movies they enjoy, what they like to talk about, the things they like most about the holidays, and what situations might prove challenging for them. You can also talk about gifts that they might like as well as gifts that they should avoid giving.

Making the Season Bright for Everybody

Here are some tips for making the holidays safe and fun for everyone:

  1. Gift-giving can be confusing for people with developmental disabilities, as many family members might feel that they should only be on the receiving end of things. Allow them to choose and give gifts of their own. Giving feels good! Take them to a store they like so they can select inexpensive gifts to give. A trip to the local dollar store is always fun. 
  2. Making holiday crafts, cards, or decorations is an excellent way for your loved one to enjoy the magic of the season without becoming overwhelmed by all the activity around them. 
  3. Make a list of everything that needs to be done and in what order. Some individuals will derive great joy from checking things off the list as they are accomplished.
  4. Set a happy, celebratory tone for the holidays by playing holiday music and singing along. Music always brings smiles, and singing together can be a joyous occasion!
  5. Try to stick to your routine as much as possible. Routines bring a sense of normalcy and help to alleviate any anxiety that might arise as a result of holiday disruptions. 
  6. Avoid large crowds and always have an exit strategy. If that means bringing two vehicles, then so be it. Never put yourself in a situation where it’s not possible to leave when you need to go. 

Above all, stay calm, and be the refuge they need among all the activity. With a little preparation and forethought, the holidays can indeed be a magical time for everyone.