Fun and Safe Holiday Activities for the Entire Family

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Erica Kearney, M.A., LABA, BCBA

[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on December 22, 2022.]

As festive music fills the air and children giggle in excitement about the upcoming holidays, it becomes clear that it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Let’s make it a magical time for all and include everyone in our celebrations. With a little planning, you can make sure everyone – including children with special needs – has a way to participate in community and family activities.

Listed below are some ideas about how to involve children in the holiday festivities. Parents, providers, and teachers of children with special needs can use these activities to teach or improve upon meaningful skills during the holiday season.
Baking and Cooking
Does your child enjoy baking and/or cooking? This is a great time of year for kids to learn about the different holidays celebrated in December and some traditional dishes like latkes for Hannukah, black-eyed peas and collard greens for Kwanzaa, and cookies for Santa on Christmas. Whether your child is younger or older, there are ways for them to help prepare edible delights such as:

  • reading directions to follow a delicious recipe;
  • retrieving items needed; 
  • using measuring cups and mixing ingredients;
  • learning about oven and kitchen safety;
  • helping with picking colors if using assorted frosting and sprinkles; 
  • washing dishes/loading dishwasher; and
  • packaging and delivering goodies to their families and friends. 

Music and Reading
Does your child enjoy music and the great outdoors? You could take them caroling to surprise family and friends with the joyful sounds of the holidays. Whether they take the lead, play an instrument, or dance in the background, serenading others can be fun for everyone. 

If your child enjoys reading, it could be fun for them read a holiday story to their sibling, friend, or classmates. If they are shy about performing in front of others, you can make a video of them singing or reading to share with others and spread holiday cheer.  

Arts and Crafts 
Would your child enjoy making their own gifts to share with others? The Internet is an excellent resource for easy-to-make items such as ornaments, cards, decorations, soap, and candles. How about filling Mason jars with safe, natural ingredients to make hot chocolate or fragrant potpourri mixes? 

Gift Giving
There are many ways you can help your child experience the joy of giving during the holiday season. They can help with making decisions about what gifts to buy or make, what wrapping paper to use, who will receive the gifts, when to give them, and how to present them.

Mailing gifts or cards? Have your child help with addressing boxes and envelopes. They can write the mailing addresses or place stickers appropriately for the return address. If you are delivering gifts in person, your child can put on a festive hat and help you present your goodies with holiday spirit. 

The holiday season is a great time to make new memories and spend time with those you love. Like the rest of us, children with special needs will be better able to experience the joy and meaning of the holidays if they are participants in, not just observers of, special activities. Taking extra time to make sure to include them in holiday traditions will be well worth the effort for you and your family. 

Erica Kearney M.A., LABA, BCBA is Executive Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, and our newest school in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit