The holidays are a time of joy and even though we might be
celebrating the holidays a little differently this year, they can still be a
time of stress. New foods, fancy clothes, schedule changes, sparkling holiday
lights and too many choices all add strain to the holidays.
Let’s look at how you can minimize holiday stress while celebrating
the joy and wonder of Christmas with your loved one with an intellectual or developmental
disability (I/DD). It’s a balancing act that you’ve likely been through
multiple times. Here’s a reminder and some tips to keep your Christmas
celebrations festive and sane.
Talk to your loved one: We can’t say it enough. Involve
your loved one with I/DD in holiday planning and decision making. If activities
and choices include them, make sure you involve them in the conversation, but
keep it age appropriate.
Prioritize traditions: The holidays are a time of
celebration and joy. Enjoying special foods, activities or decorations with
family and friends are often part of a tradition that many of us treasure. But,
even in the best of times, we can’t do it all. Speak with your family about
favorite traditions and prioritize the top two or three.
Avoid triggers: Parents and guardians often
understand their loved one’s triggers better than anyone. Triggers can include
a new situation, specific foods, new people, loud noises or something unique to
your loved one. Taking potential triggers into account when planning for
holiday activities and traditions will go a long way toward minimizing
inappropriate behavior and even meltdowns.
Keep it comfortable: Family or society norms often
demand that we dress in our finest for special occasions. While Christmas may
call for a new holiday outfit, consider whether your loved one finds clothing
with more structure to be uncomfortable. Maybe new outfits are stiff or scratchy.
Imagine discomfort grating on you all day.
If dressing for the holiday is a must for your celebrations
and traditions, talk to your loved one about their specific clothing
preferences. Armed with this understanding you can balance their preference
with clothing choices that fit the occasion. You may find they love to dress up,
but dressy clothing that doesn’t fit is uncomfortable. You might only need a
Schedule, schedule, schedule: Holidays disrupt
everyone’s schedules. At the same time, and as you’ve probably experienced, people
with I/DD tend to thrive on routine. Stick with your routine as much as
possible. Continue regular, healthy meals; don’t skip time set aside for
physical activity; and follow regular sleep schedules as much as you can.
When it comes to celebrations, make every effort to plan them
around your existing routine. If you must disrupt your loved one’s routine, try
adjusting their schedule by a few minutes every day leading up to the “off
schedule” celebration. Alternatively, you can add the celebration to your daily
schedule and use the time to prepare for all the celebration will entail. And
don’t forget to schedule some down time. We all need time to decompress every
day, and especially throughout the busy and active holidays.
Manage expectations: Talk to your loved one about
what they will experience. Whether it’s new people, places, foods, sounds or
another experiences, talk about what they can expect, discuss their concerns,
and prepare them with expected behavior.
Plan for transitions: Transitioning to new activities
or from exciting or beloved activities can be challenging for all of us. Whether
thrilling or difficult, you can help your loved one transition from one
activity to another by preparing them in advance. Share the schedule so they
know what comes next. Provide advance notice for upcoming transitions with a
minimum 10-minute countdown or more depending on their needs. Simple cues such
as, “We will leave in 15 minutes,” or “We have only 10 minutes left,” help to
prepare your loved one for the coming change.
Be prepared: Think ahead to all that might go wrong
and right. Be prepared by planning for quiet space, whether at your home or
someone else’s. Do you need to bring headphones or sunglasses? Should you plan
downtime or an exit strategy? Think about the menu. Will your loved one have options,
or do you need to bring a few favorites? Consider potential challenges and come
prepared. You may even need a reward or kind words for your loved one when they
come through the celebration without a single mishap.
Take care of yourself: As a caregiver, holiday
preparations add to your workload. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, exercise,
and plan time for yourself as well. If you’re stressed, holiday celebrations
can become exponentially more difficult for you and your loved one.
Finally, when planning for the holidays, remember, less can
be more. Sometimes our greatest experiences and fondest memories come out of
quiet times alone with loved ones. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience
and treasure quiet moments in the hustle and bustle of holiday celebrations.
Here are some additional resources that can help you
navigate the holidays and help your loved one enjoy the magic of the season.
Christmas celebrations encourage indulgence. If you need some help with healthy eating, check out:
Nutrition tips for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Are you spending time with extended family members who don’t know what to say? This post may help:
Helping others communicate with people with disabilities