Tips for an inclusive Festive season

December 8, 2021
Family wellbeing
By Andie Scibilia
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The Festive season is upon us once again! While it can be an exciting occasion, if your child has a disability, medical needs or developmental delay, there may some pre -planning to take into consideration. 

 It’s okay to adapt Festivities to your family’s needs. 

Here are some tips and strategies for a fun, inclusive and hopefully stress-free Festive season while supporting your children with disability, medical needs, or developmental delay. 

Schedule

Have a plan and stick to it. 

  • Routines are essential to some children as it allows them a measure of control and calmness in knowing what will happen. 
  • Using a visual timetable to show what will be happening over the festive period can help to minimise children’s anxiety by making it more predictable. It can also help to prepare your child for specific activities that may be happening. 
  • You could create a ‘Countdown Calendar’ and use it as a countdown to your special day and give them something to look forward to as the days get marked off.   
  • You know what times your child functions best – try and plan activities around that timeframe. 
  • Use photos. Find some pictures of the celebration from last year. Use those photos to put together a photo album or social story of that event. Your child can then see it in pictures and written words before attending a similar event this year. 

Knowledge 

Extended families often get together, and some of them may not understand the individual with the disability. It might be helpful for parents to send out a quick update to family members before an event.  This update could include: 

  • Activities and topics your child enjoy doing or discussing. 
  • Activities and topics to avoid with your child. 
  • Food that your child may enjoy when you gather together. 
  • Challenges for your child during the celebrations. 
  • Gifts your child might enjoy receiving. 
  • Gifts to avoid. 
  • Give them expectations of how your child may behave – they may be unable to sit for long periods, may want to run around, may not be able to thank people for gifts due to verbal skills, they focus on only one gift, or they may get distracted by all the sensory input around them. 
  • Let them know you may have to leave at a specific time or suddenly. 

Siblings 

Don’t forget about siblings! They need to be able to enjoy festivities without constant worry about their brother or sister. 

  • Set expectations for the whole family. Make sure all children know what is expected of them in terms of behaviour, rules of where you are going, things they can and cannot do. 
  • If they are old enough, discuss the plan beforehand. Including them in the pre-planning will help them understand the day. Let them know things may not go as planned and manage their expectations of the day. Let them know the schedule you are following and the timeframes of each activity. 
  • If you must leave suddenly ask what they would like to do in that situation. Could one parent stay with them? Could another family member look after them and bring them home? 
  • Include them in decision making – what activities would they like to do? What foods would they like to eat? Make sure their needs are also met. 
  • Be aware of sibling’s feelings. Having their day turned upside down and being made to leave festivities abruptly could harbour feelings of resentment. Be careful of the language you use around siblings – try not to make it all about their brother//sister. 
  • Plan a one-on-one activity for siblings so they feel special. What activity would they like to do? 
  • Remember that this is their day too. 

Venue  

  • Your child may not have visited the place you will be visiting before. You may want to visit ahead of time for them to get a feel for the room and explore without any people there. 
  • Will you need a space for changing? Will you need an accessible parking spot? Will you need help unloading items? 
  • Have a designated quiet space for your child if they feel overwhelmed. 
  • Are there items your child will not be allowed to touch? Consider asking the host to put these away so they will not get damaged. 

Food 

This is usually one of the biggest issues for families as children may have food issues.

  • Bring your child’s favourite foods with you, so they don’t feel left out. 
  • Make sure others know not to force your child to eat foods they don’t want to. 
  • If your child has an allergy, make sure the host is aware and ask them to let you know what they have put in their dishes. 
  • Let others know your child may not sit down for the entire meal and may need to move their body. 

Gifts 

  • Many children with disability have poor motor skills, so a gift with too much tape or extra ribbons can be highly frustrating. Make it easier by loosely wrapping with just a few pieces of tape, or better yet, put everything in fun gift bags! 
  • Get other kids involved with the present opening. Make it a fun game. 
  • Let people know ahead of time that your child may be too distracted to enjoy a gift straight away or be solely focused on one present only. 

Activities  

  • Make your own decorations
  • For many families decorating is a favourite pastime. It can be made even more special by making handmade decorations. You can paint and decorate your own baubles, make stained glass window ornaments with sugar, or you can get creative with pinecones and a bit of glitter.  
  • Themed movie night
  • Throw on the matching Pyjamas, get the popcorn ready, and settle in for a night of festive movies. Some of our favourite family movies include Elf, The Grinch, and the classic Home Alone. 
  • Paint your own wrapping paper 
  • Another fun way to get your creative skills working is by painting or drawing your own wrapping paper. The best thing about this activity is that the messier and un-perfect it is, the better it will look. All you need is a roll of butchers’ paper, and your choice of decoration tools – pens, crayons, or paint will all work. You can also add embellishments like Christmas stickers, glitter, or stamps. 
  • Festive sensory bins 
  • Tinsel and non-breakable decorations make great sensory bins. Or add some red & green food dye to pasta or rice with some peppermint essential oil. 
  • Festive play dough 
  • Add peppermint essential oil or gingerbread spices to your favourite playdough recipe. 
  • Kinetic Snow 
  • A twist on kinetic sand. You can find kinetic sand at most shops and add a bit of extra fine glitter. 

Have a wonderful festive season!  

Andie Scibilia

By Andie Scibilia

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