Next Level Holidays …

Ready Set …

Like everyone, the editors at EP Magazine look forward to the holidays as a joyous time to spend with family, loved ones and friends. ’Tis the season for parties, shopping, decorating, traditions – and stress! It is also a time to be thankful, give to others, exchange gifts, and wish for peace. Let’s bring the holidays to the next level!

Prepare and Plan

The best way to take your family’s holiday season to the next level is to reduce the stress that surrounds much of the season. As with many other projects and events, the ultimate key to success is planning and preparation.  Organization and anticipation can ensure a smooth transition from one phase of the holiday season to the next, so it makes sense to get out the calendar and write (or type if you use a cell phone or tablet) down the dates and times of each engagement that you are expected to host or attend, and add others as the weeks pass. That way, each time you consult your calendar, you can prepare for each event with the requisite decorating, shopping, or food preparation.

Discuss Your Plans & Avoid Surprises

As you evaluate how your time will be spent over the holiday season, make sure to include your family member with special needs in those discussions. Whether it be explaining how many people will be at dinner at grandmother’s, or which day a sibling is expected to return home from college, it helps to build a general timetable and provide some details for your loved one so they that don’t become overwhelmed with situations they weren’t expecting and can prepare as best they can.

Keep Expectations Reasonable

Families with loved ones with special needs are not immune from the high levels of expectations that we place on ourselves towards the end of the year. As the number of social obligations increase, so does the toll that the holidays can take on everyday routines, bank accounts and overall mental health. It’s best to recognize your limitations and only schedule the most essential of holiday gatherings and events in order to spare you and your loved one unnecessary overload.

Reach Out to Family & Other Hosts

When you and your family member with special needs are planning to attend get-togethers outside of your home, it can be very helpful to reach out and communicate any special requirements or timetables to extended family or hosts beforehand. This can alleviate confusion or stress in the moment. If your loved one will benefit from a few quiet moments away from the larger group, or is wary of loud music or conversations, it’s okay to arrange for some help with these matters as long as you don’t demand too much.

Accomplish Goals Together

If they are able and agreeable, it’s a great strategy to utilize the energy and focus that your loved one with special needs can supply in order to accomplish certain tasks quicker. Decorating a Christmas tree, stuffing card envelopes or even more mundane chores such as walking the dog or shoveling snow can free up a few extra moments for you and make everyone feel the joy of participating.

Say No When You Have To

With an eye toward avoiding overextending you or your family members, it’s sometimes becomes necessary to recognize one’s limits and to decline an invitation or say no to certain events. While saying no may seem  discourteous at first, most relatives or friends recognize that no one has an inexhaustible supply of energy and will understand that health and wellbeing must take precedence over one more party or holiday event.

Schedule Quiet Times

A quick survey of your holiday calendar shows that it doesn’t take too long for it to fill up. Seize the opportunity to schedule a few days or afternoons that are dedicated to quiet time. Watching a movie, taking a short walk or even stealing away for a quick nap are surefire ways to recharge your batteries and to get some precious downtime for your family member with special needs.

TIP #1 The holiday season is hectic with neighborhood parties, gettogethers, family reunions, and shopping. Picniic (Android, iOS) is a handy organizer families can use to coordinate their holiday schedules, planning out a shared calendar with kids, as well as to-do lists for things like gift shopping, and a family locator. It’s not strictly a holiday season app, but it is a helpful addition to your app arsenal.

Over the River…

Travel and family gatherings are a very important part of family holiday traditions. Whether you are hosting this year’s event, driving across town, or flying across the country, traveling with a family member with special needs can pose certain challenges. Try these tips to make getting together a little easier.

First Steps

As with most aspects of life that fall outside of the normal daily routine, travel can be very disruptive to those with special needs. For families with these travelers, planning ahead takes on a new meaning. They must anticipate exposure to new sights, sounds and people who are not part of their everyday routine. Previewing the trip and explaining the transportation steps so they know what to expect can aid in avoiding difficulties. Using stories, such as interactive guides or workbooks that describe social situations and appropriate social cues and interactions, can help prevent possible travel anxiety before the day of departure.

Don’t Forget the Goodie Bag

Familiar items and toys are often very important to persons with special needs. They offer comfort and distraction from outside sources of stress. Keep a bag that contains their iPad (and charger), coloring books and crayons, reading books, fidget toy, snacks, water or other favorite small items handy at all times. A brand new small toy that will intrigue them may be just the thing that can help them through the last hour of a long drive or flight.

Bring Their Routine With You

Even after extensive planning – arriving early, finding comfortable seating in a good location, being rested and having healthy snacks on hand – events like holiday parties or performances can turn problematic. Read your loved one’s clues, anticipate rough patches and be aware of the fact that it won’t always go well. Try to implement the crucial parts of their daily routine into these festive situations, such as good communication, healthy diet and some respite from excess stimulation. Try different things, like noise blocking headphones, that might help to relieve them a bit.

Plan Your Escape

Sometimes all the planning in the world won’t prevent a Christmas crisis, so it’s a good idea to have an escape plan for when things take a turn for the worse. It may not be the most ideal solution, but if you are driving to your destination, consider taking two cars. That way, a spouse or older child may be able to take your loved one with special needs back home where they feel more comfortable, and other family members can remain (if they wish).

Giving and Receiving

Family members who want to give a gift to your loved one with special needs may need some assistance. Offer them an idea or two for a present that makes sense, such as a story book that teaches a lesson about new life skills. It’s also an chance to include your family member with special needs in the spirit of giving. Make a checklist of relatives you deem appropriate, and let them choose a present for them. Later, they’ll be excited at the idea of presenting gifts they personally picked out. Consider participating in a charity project. The act of giving shows your child that his actions can have a positive impact on others. Local charities or programs for those with developmental disabilities are worthy recipients.

Look Toward the Future

The holiday season is an ideal time to discuss your plans for the future for your loved one with the rest of your family, and to explain some of the concerns you have about financial planning and special care that might be required as time passes. It’s also an opportunity for your extended family members to witness what is involved in caring for your loved one on a day-to-day basis. Find time during these family gatherings to discuss things like guardianship and other planning issues.

TIP #2 As the holiday season quickly approaches, caregivers and parents of children with special needs are considering what new toys, games and learning tools are appearing on the market and which of those might be a good fit for their child. To help families through their toy purchasing decisions, EP’s editors have compiled a selection of some new products as well as some classic choices, each of which offer fun ways to improve motor skills, balance, strength or social skill building. Our toy guide is broken into four major sections to help highlight the features that each toy emphasizes. See our exclusive guide at

Peace & Love

As we head into the end of the year, we need to be flexible with our own definition of what a holiday should look like. Our childhood rituals and traditions just may not work with our family members with special needs. Let’s create new memories and newly define what holidays look like for our own families today.

Relating to Relatives

As parents of a loved one with special needs, you often find that people just want to offer hope and encouragement and don’t know what to say sometimes. You are probably familiar with phases such as “She’ll be fine” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Try to exercise patience with those who offer these sentiments and focus instead on their offers of help or words of support. Keep in mind that, as difficult as your own personal situation is, everyone is fighting some kind of inner battle and none of us are immune to life’s various challenges.

Dress the Part

During the holiday season, we like to look our best by wearing a new outfit or dressing up for a myriad of gatherings and celebrations. However, forcing your family member with special needs to wear clothes that they aren’t used to is probably not wise. Clothing sensitivities are very troublesome to those with disabilities, and how much fun will they have in an itchy sweater anyway? Compromise and let them wear a neat new pair of dark colored sweatpants; they’ll still look sharp and you will both be happier.

Dinner Table Strategies

If your loved one with special needs is non-verbal, it can be hard for them to be included in conversations around the holiday dinner table. Keep in mind that we can amuse ourselves with conversation but sometimes others cannot. Help family members and friends engage your loved one and provide an ice breaker by showing some photos of things they like, either in a small photo album or on a device. It’s a way to share interests and connect on a deeper level while spending quality family time.

Settling In

People with special needs often lack the ability that others have to calm their emotions. Since it’s not easy for them to settle their minds down on their own, they often end up acting out as a way to expend the excess energy. It makes sense to ensure that activities have a wind-down time afterwards, as well as a sort of re-entry activity into usual routine. For example, “In 20 minutes our guests are going to leave, and when they do, you and I will read a book together like we usually do.” Turn your attention to something simple and enjoyable that you and your loved one can do together. Having a calming presence with them will help them have an easier time settling down.

Everyone is Important

If it’s possible, and there are sufficient people available to offer help with you family member with special needs, try to set aside some time with everyone. It’s important to remember that your other children need your love and attention too and are just as important throughout the holiday season, as is your partner. It’s perfectly acceptable to request that family members help out here and there so you can spend some quality time with everyone. These small moments are what holiday memories are made of.

Counting Blessings

There’s no doubt that it is extremely difficult and sometimes frustrating to raise a loved one with special needs. We might sometimes wish to just have a “normal” holiday season and not worry about all of these problems and challenges, but the holidays are an important time to cherish all of the gifts we have been given, especially the gift of our families. It’s often said that caregivers of family members with special needs become better parents, people, and advocates for helping families with similar special needs. Make it a priority to do what makes your child happy. Determine how to do what works for your family. When you are able, do for others as you or your child can tolerate. But first and foremost, enjoy the holiday season with your loved one with special needs and the rest of your family. Make memories that will always warm your heart, even if they involve just eating popcorn by the fire! •

TIP #3 Whether you’re on your way to a holiday party, staying with family for the weekend, or thanking a caregiver or helper for the time they’ve spent with your loved one with special needs, you want to show your gratitude. The time of year lends itself to celebration through giving. Remember that the size or price of the gift is insignificant. What you need to focus on instead is what that person will like. This mango tangerine scented candle is perfectly fresh and fills a room with a beautiful citrus scent.