Plan Ahead for More Relaxing Holidays

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

The notion of simplicity parenting has been trending in the news and social media recently, and what better time to put some of its good ideas into action than the upcoming holiday season? Parents who have adult children with special needs might find this approach helpful as they prepare for the hustle and bustle of the coming weeks. Below are a few ideas to consider while deciding what is best for your family as the party invitations, and the pressure to accept them, pile up:
Say yes to no. It is okay to politely decline requests to attend a gathering if you feel that the timing, the location, the number of guests, or any reason might make it a hard-to-handle situation for your adult son or daughter with an intellectual disability (ID). If a family member or adult with special needs will be with you during the holidays, it is up to you to identify events where they will most likely succeed and events that may result in difficult or challenging behavior.
Say yes to less. After the holidays pass, we often hear co-workers or friends say, “I’m so glad that’s over – what a stressful and exhausting couple of weeks!” Sound familiar? If you are the caretaker for an adult family member with special needs, you may have even higher levels of stress or exhaustion on a day-to-day basis. All the more reason to set yourself and your family member up for success during the holidays. For example, if you have three invitations for one day, it is okay to identify which party may be the best fit for your family – the one you would enjoy the most that promotes the most relaxing environment. Accept that invitation and decline the others. Or, an alternative to saying, “Thanks, but no thanks” could be, “Thanks for the invitation. We cannot make it, but we would love to have you over our house to visit for coffee and gingerbread cookies on Sunday.”
Say yes to slow. Sometimes during the winter season, we feel rushed or pressured to hurry up and get going! When you are caring for a person with disabilities, this can be extremely frustrating and problematic for you and for them. If you find yourself having to leave the house at an early morning hour, or right when a family member gets home from work, it is best to plan ahead and leave plenty of time to go slowly, complete your normal routine, and have patience. It is better to show up late to church or to a work party than to show up flustered with a family member who is already having a difficult time.
Say yes to requests. If you decide to attend an event with your son or daughter with ID, it is okay to make small requests of your host. Asking, “Would you make a small room available for us if we need to go somewhere away from the group to calm down?” ahead of time could help your adult child feel more comfortable. Asking, “Would you share your Wi-Fi password with me so we can hook up my daughter’s iPad as soon as we get there?” may help ease her anxiety upon entering a new space. Making small requests of your host before the party or dinner will help both you and your child enjoy yourselves.
As the cold weather and the holidays approach, We hope these tips will alleviate some of the pressure, stress, and anxiety that often come with the season, and help prepare you and your family for enjoyable, relaxing, and happy holidays!
Caroline Scherpa, M.A., BCBA

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601or visit

The May Center for Adult Services in West Springfield provides day and residential services to adults with developmental disabilities living in western Massachusetts. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit