As the parent of two adult sons I have lived through the calamities, meltdowns, and mayhem that the holidays bestow with the occasional force of a tsunami on special needs families. With a mixture of Aspergers, A.D.D.H.D., Anxiety disorders, and a seizure disorder, we have had our share of holiday excitement. Yes friends, it is that wonderful time of the year:-0)

My hope is that my suggestions will make your life slightly easier. Some of my tried and true ideas are slightly unorthodox but they do work.

1) Oh Christmas tree Oh Christmas tree , how do I keep you upright when my child is attracted to your green branches, like a magnetic force is attracted to metal?

HELP HAS ARRIVED!:-0) If you have a budding pint size landscaper in your home who wishes to move your Christmas tree to a more selective area of your home, try this.

Place the tree (stand and all) in the center of a full size play pen. A small child will have a difficult time getting a tight enough grasp on the tree because the playpen raises it off the floor and surrounds it with an obstructive wall.

The child will most likely attempt to grasp the edge of the playpen over. However the central weight of the tree makes it difficult to pull it forward hence saving the tree from falling on the child. The child may succeed in pushing the playpen over. If the child is adamant and has upper body strength. However, in pushing the playpen forward, the tree would tip in a forward motion, thus away from the child’s body.

Putting the tree in the playpen also buys you more time to redirect the little offender away from the crime scene, as it takes far more time to topple the tree than if the tree was flush with the floor

One other hint to the wise is to wait until children go to bed on Christmas eve to put ANY gifts under the tree. Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty with delayed gratification. Their sense of time is distorted. One our for a neurotypical child can feel like ten hours to a special needs child with sensory issues. Delaying putting gifts out can prevent a major case of sensory overload.

2) Christmas balls are too shiny and colorful for little hands not to touch.

Do you have a pint sized interior decorator in your home? Do you find Christmas balls hanging from the blinds, leaving a decorative trail across the floor akin to a row of bread crumbs left by Hansel and Gretel? Do you prepare to take a bath only to find holiday ornaments bobbing in the tub?

If you do not wish to spend the holiday season accidentally stepping on holiday ball hooks as you attempt to maneuver across the floor without getting a hook caught in your foot like a fish on a fishing pole than check this idea out.

Decorate the upper half of the tree with holiday decorations. This will keep them out of the reach of the little people in your life. Decorate the lower half of the tree just with garland. If your child takes the garland off the tree (which will be all that is in direct reach for them) the outcome will be less catastrophic than holiday hooks and broken ornaments strewn about your home.

The worst that can happen is that your budding fashonista may turn the garland into a decorative boa and entertain you with a holiday rendition of songs and dances.

Heck decorate the bottom of the tree with a string of carrots and broccoli and perhaps there placement will entice your child to eat vegetables, Nah, probably not:-0)

3) Over the hills and through the woods to Grandmas house we go. Holiday parties and holiday events, the moment we all look forward to. Turn a meltdown into a calm down.

Children with sensory issues are extremely sensitive to the noise and glitter of the holidays. If your child will tolerate sound blocking ear plugs, you may attempt to use these when visiting places with loud sounds, holiday music, etc. This may block out some sounds as to limit the chance that your child becomes overwhelmed.


Children love novelty. Hide certain toys, i.e. video games, ipad apps., drawing pads, markers, special toys, etc. and limit use of these items to when you are visiting family, attending a loud concert, etc. These items will take the child’s focus off of the lights, sounds, and all else that bustling holidays bring. If the items the child are offered to play with are coveted because they only come out at special times the child is more likely to be enthralled with them

Last but not least, children especially on the autism spectrum tend to be extremely selective in the food that they will eat. Always bring some of your child’s favorite foods with yo when visiting people. If possible, notify the host ahead of time about your child’s issues, or take them aside and speak with the host when you get to their gathering. This way the host will understand and not take offense as to why your child will not eat their food. Open dialogue is always the best route.

May your holiday be happy , joyous and memorable. May the force be with you:-0)

Happy holidays from Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE