The Reality Facing Special Needs Families at Christmas

Christmas is literally around the corner.

I know many of you will be worrying, stressing and dreading the day and what it will entail.

…dealing with family who don’t seem to understand your needs.

…dealing with well-meaning advice from relatives who can’t help but have their say on your child, your parenting and your decisions.

…dealing with the pressures of being social, being out of routine and being expected to conform.

…dealing with the sensory challenges and social struggles of being away from home.

Christmas can be a huge source of stress and strain for special needs families, for all these reasons and more.

If the day itself doesn’t bring you or your family joy, it’s time to examine why. If you’ve come to dread every Christmas gathering, it’s time to identify the reasons for this dread.

Is it the noise, the overwhelming sensory stimulation, the social demands, the unexpected nature of festive food and gift giving or something else? Is it surrounding yourself with those who will never understand your family’s needs? Is it the stress of holding yourself, your partner and your kids together for a day or more? Is it the prospect of travelling far from home?

It’s important to identify why Christmas fails to bring you and your family joy, so you can work out how to reclaim the magic of the season.


The Trouble With Christmas


Most of us feel a sense of duty or obligation at this time of year. It’s expected that we come together with family to celebrate the season. It’s assumed that we’ll all have a great time at these gatherings.

However, for many special needs families, that’s not the case at all.

Which is why you should shed the guilt and resolve to do what’s right for your family this Christmas.

If the “traditional” approach to Christmas and the festive season doesn’t work for your family, look at ways you can create a new tradition that will better suit your needs.

Remember, regardless of what anyone says, you are not required to attend every function. You don’t need to be present every year at the big family Christmas celebration. You are not obliged to say yes, when every part of your being is screaming no.

Let go of your guilt and find ways to celebrate that will actually bring joy to your family.


Alternate Ways to Approach Christmas as a Special Needs Family


Say no to invitations and opt for a quiet day at home instead on Christmas Day.

Arrange to visit family one-on-one in the lead up to Christmas or following the day, if it’s all too much.

Offer to host a low key Christmas at your place, where your kids can feel safe and free of overwhelm.

Choose to live slower in the lead up to Christmas and save your energy for the gatherings that bring your family joy.


Now, if you do attend a family gathering, there are ways you can make it a more pleasant and enjoyable experience for your and for your family:

Say that you’ll attend for a defined period of time, so you can escape as needed, without guilt.

Offer to bring food your kids will eat to ensure their needs are recognised and included.

Ask for access to a quiet room where your kids (and you) can retreat when things get too much.

Prepare a script (a planned response) for those difficult comments & questions from family, to defuse tension and make things easier for you on the day.


Do what’s right for YOUR family this Christmas. Let go of the guilt and obligation and put your family’s needs first. Create a new Christmas tradition that brings you joy and eliminates the dread.


Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. I wish you joy, love and happiness, however you choose to celebrate the season x



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