The holidays are fraught with traps for kids with ADHD and/or autism. Schedules and routines are out the window. Impulsivity is tested at every turn. Social gatherings are frequent — also loud and overwhelming. A healthy lifestyle is often put on hold. It’s nearly impossible for kids with ADHD and/or autism not to struggle during the holiday season — the pitfalls are everywhere. You have the power to not let this testing of limits ruin your family time though (like we almost did one Christmas several years ago). Here’s how…

5 Strategies to Maintain Peace Over the Holidays for Families with ADHD and/or Autism

Make a plan. Stick to your normal schedule as much as possible during the holidays. If your child goes to bed at 9 pm every night, for instance, make sure that still happens as much as possible. Each morning, sit down with your child and discuss the plan for the day, offering as much detail as possible. Even better, write up an agenda as you discuss it. Knowing what to expect can avert many an emotional outburst or meltdown. Be sure you’re giving transition warnings as well — “We’re leaving for Grandma’s house in 10 minutes.”

Ensure adequate sleep. We all need to be truly well-rested to function optimally. I don’t know about you, but I can be downright grumpy and mean when I’m tired. That’s certainly true for our kids. Our emotional and cognitive functions are compromised when we don’t get enough good sleep. This can go a long way to combatting the fact that your schedule is different.

Be prepared. The days of diaper bags are long past for our kids, but that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook on preparing for what may come. Be sure you’re prepared for every possible occurrence (as much as possible). Pack your child’s favorite activity, items for soothing and calming, high protein snacks, etc. — even if you’re only going to be away from home for a few hours. For us, now at age 14, that means having the iPad, charging cords, headphones (to block out loud noises and for him to watch a movie to calm down, if needed), beef jerky, and the weighted blanket if it’s an overnight trip.

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Set appropriate expectations. You know your child is 2-3 years behind their age developmentally. You also know their limitations. Use these insights to set appropriate expectations for the holidays. Don’t expect your child to “act their age,” and don’t expect an impulsive child to not wake in the middle of the night and open presents from under the tree (yes, my son has done that, more than once). Set your child up to succeed. This is true every day, but takes more attention and effort during the holidays.

Choose joy. The holidays are meant to share time with friends and family. They are meant to be a happy, fulfilling time. With the added stress of special needs, we often focus too much on behavior, at the expense of everything else. This holiday season, I challenge you to choose joy. Throw out your Pinterest-inspired, Norman Rockwell wanna-be expectations and choose to focus on all the wonderful moments you’re sharing with those who mean the most to you.

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Penny Williams
Author. Parenting Guide. Journalist. Speaker.
Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD. Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.