Experts share tips on how to help special needs children during the holidays

"Some things related to manners and greetings and things like that, you can let people know not to push too hard on or to expect."

WARNER ROBINS, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT)— The holiday season is a special time of year. For kids with special needs though, it could mean disrupting their routine.

Whitney Trapp is a behavioral analyst with Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center. She says it’s important to set expectations with family members before a holiday visit, like reminding them of habits that aren’t necessary to push with special needs children.

“Some things related to manners and greetings and things like that, you can let people know not to push too hard on or to expect,” said Trapp.

Bridgette Arno-Sparks is the owner and educational and behavioral consultant at Puzzle Pieces Intervention Center in Warner Robins. She says you should plan around your child’s sensitivities whether it’s light, auditory, or crowd sensitivity.

“Maybe consider having noise cancellation headphones, being able to take breaks, making short trips, being able to make sure you have some of their favorite things in a little bag of tricks,” she said.

Trapp suggests to do what is called “social stories” with your special needs child. It will prepare them for whatever you do during the holiday season. It can also help curb any potential anxiety they might have about the settings they’re going into.

“You could talk about that car ride when you go to someone news house or things of that nature. So just an opportunity to illustrate what that time might look like for them,” Trapp said.

Arno-Sparks recommends practicing opening gifts, verbal scripts, and communication ahead of the holiday season. She says it’s important to make sure they can be included in all aspects of family gatherings.

“By breaking things down, knowing what to expect. Helping to prime them, giving them expectations in advance, and in small doses, as well as positive redirections to help them through these pieces,” she said.

Arno-Sparks also recommends making sure you’re getting gifts specific to what the child likes, and is specific to their needs. She says asking a parent detailed questions ahead of time can make all the difference.

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