Happier Holidays for Children with Vision Loss

Though it is considered the most wonderful time of the year, for children with special needs, the flashing lights, blaring music, crowded malls, social events and schedule changes can be overwhelming. Children with vision loss, mental health issues or developmental and physical challenges such as autism, sensory issues, depression and anxiety may need extra help managing the festivities of the season. They also do not all experience the holidays the same way.

One Parent Shares Her Perspective

“The holidays used to be the most difficult time for me.  My child could not participate in the traditional way; she could not see the lights or enjoy events.  She could not express what she wanted or how she felt. I used to stand in the aisles at the toy store and cry because I did not know what to get her.  We don’t get invited to go to parties or gatherings. It’s easy to lose yourself because you are so preoccupied with your child.

I found that I had to let the traditional aspects of the holidays go and not worry that my daughter can’t fit in.  Many family members did not understand. I managed to find connections in other ways. Storekeepers at the Mall who know us well.  A few friends who I can relate to. I found my own way for my daughter to be included. It’s important to find connections.

Accept your child the way they are – don’t try to force them into situations where they may be uncomfortable.  Let go of some of the traditions and do what makes you happy. Take time for yourself, go to beauty salon, meet a friend for coffee.  Take a walk. Get away even for a short time.”

Helpful Tips

Here are some tips to help you and your family enjoy the season:

  • Avoid events with loud noises: Loud music, flashing lights and noisy parties may be upsetting for children with autism and sensory issues. Children with sensory issues may also find loud noises upsetting, so quieter events such as cookie baking, reading holiday stories, children’s holiday events at a library or a low-key holiday movie at home with family may be more peaceful alternatives.
  • Avoid crowds, strangers, chatter: Sitting on Santa’s lap be particularly upsetting for a child with vision loss or one who is on the autism spectrum.  Even kids without a developmental disability can feel uncomfortable.
    • Parties with relatives that the family does not see often can create anxiety, too. Families may have some sense of how their child will do at a holiday event based on how they handle birthday parties.
    • Parents know their kids and need to be mindful of their needs. In some cases, you can prepare kids for certain kinds of scenarios in advance.
  • Be flexible: Even with the best of plans – arriving early, sitting in a good location, being rested and having plenty of snacks on hand – events like holiday parties or concerts can turn difficult. Read your children’s clues, anticipate and be sensitive to the fact that it won’t always go well. In some cases, you may even be able to mitigate some of the stimulation so a child can comfortably stay: wearing headphones with sound protection, for example, if they don’t mind devices on their head.
  • Get sleep: Children with and without health issues will be quicker to get upset if they’re not getting enough sleep. Trying to make the most of holidays for the entire family, but exposing and enriching the family experience with well-intentioned activities, is a reality for families with children with special needs. Getting enough sleep is essential to help keep health on track and moods cheerful.
  • Keep meals on track: Some kids may have narrow food preferences. No matter what they enjoy or don’t enjoy eating, be wary of excess sugar intake when Christmas cookies and other treats seem to be everywhere.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: You and your family can all use techniques when you are feeling stressed. Use relaxation techniques on a daily basis. Breathing, visualizing, and positive thinking are powerful tools.
  • Don’t rush: Slow down instead of rushing around during the holidays as rushing children and teens just causes anger to bubble up. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the journey and avoid meltdowns. Children with special needs should be given notice of transitions.
  • Take care of your own health: Depression tends to run in families so it’s important parents of kids struggling with mental health issues take care of themselves.
    • Families should keep to their normal routines when it comes to sleeping and eating even if they’re on vacation.
    • Families should stay physically active and eat healthfully during the holidays because that can help, too, especially if there’s a history of depression and anxiety.
    • It may be tempting to cancel regular mental health counseling appointments due to busy schedules at this time of year, but therapy may be a great support for families during this time.
  • Don’t spend too much time on social media: Looking at other peoples’ Facebook pages and seeing them doing fun things and together with others can actually make you feel worse. Instead, be  active and plan some structured activities during the break.

    • Meeting up with other people your child likes to see, going to a movie if your child enjoys them, or taking a walk in the park can be shared by all of the children in a family, not just those with health needs.

Remember, your family doesn’t need to adhere to traditions, or be forced into uncomfortable situations. The holidays are a time for you to do what makes you all happy.

Lighthouse Guild’s Parent Tele-Support Group is also here to help. You can talk to and get support from other parents who are going through the same issues you are during the holidays.