Six Tips for Maintaining Your Child’s Routine during the Holiday Season

Boy with Autism Holding Pumpkins with his Grandfather

It’s taken months, but you’ve finally gotten your special needs child into a healthy routine. Now that she’s on a regular sleep schedule and eating a healthy diet, you’re actually seeing positive results! Yet, as the holidays approach, you fear she’ll be unable to sustain all the progress. How can you, your child and the rest of the family enjoy holiday festivities without throwing away all the gains your child has made? We’ve gathered some tips to minimize the backsliding and maximize the joys of the season.

Prepare your child
Children with special needs — especially those on the autism spectrum — thrive on routine and may find change extremely disruptive. You can minimize negative responses to unfamiliar events or schedule changes by preparing your child in advance. The Autism Awareness Centre recommends using a visual calendar with pictures that explain upcoming activities, or creating a social story that tells your child what to expect. In both cases, make sure to review calendars and social stories with your child and address any concerns ahead of time.

Sleep is sacred!
No one’s at their best when they don’t get sufficient sleep, especially children with special needs. During the holidays, sleep schedules frequently fall by the wayside. But even if your child’s bedtime is later than usual, preserve pre-bedtime rituals like bathing and story-telling. You can also try building in time for extra sleep by providing naps for little ones or allowing older children to sleep later than usual. According to, children 1-2 years old require 11-14 hours of sleep per night; ages 3-5 need 10-13 hours; and ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours.

Limit sugary foods
As we all know, holiday treats are almost impossible to avoid. Indeed, they’re part of the holiday experience for many of us. Forbidding your child to indulge in any of these delectable goodies is likely to backfire. So, unless he has a life-threatening food allergy or maintains a special diet, decide on limits around sugar intake, and be prepared to enforce them.

Uphold your child’s special diet
If your child has food allergies or is on a gluten or casein free diet, help him stick to it, by offering special gluten and casein-free treats. These days, there are many books    and online resources that specialize in these diets. One online resource is Rachael Roehmholdt’s 100 Holiday Gluten-free, Dairy-free Recipes. Additionally, don’t assume that holiday hosts will have gluten and casein-free foods on hand. Instead, come prepared with foods your child can eat. Similarly, if your child is a picky eater, don’t        force her to try unfamiliar foods at a holiday event. Play it safe by packing her favorite foods and allowing her to eat them while the rest of the family enjoys traditional holiday fare.

Don’t come hungry
We’re often told to “bring our appetites” to holiday get-togethers. But bringing a hangry child to a social event can be unpleasant for everyone. Always carry healthy snacks to ensure that your child’s behavior isn’t compromised by a lack of food.

Encourage physical activity
Eating tons of sugar and being physically inactive are a recipe for disaster for many children. Be sure to find time to get children outside for some fresh air and exercise. Wheelchair users can benefit from tossing a ball or participating in a wheelchair race. If you’re traveling and staying in a hotel, consider booking one with a swimming pool. Taking a pool break with the kids can improve everyone’s mood and minimize the negative effects of overindulging.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Enabling Devices!