Navigating the Holiday Season with Family Members Living with Disabilities

A Christmas Tree Reflection

It’s that magical time of year again! 

But for some, the holidays can be a little more stressful than others. A season of unfamiliar routines coupled with new experiences, sights and smells can feel overwhelming for our loved ones who live with a disability. 

Caring for your loved ones with all these new sensorial experiences may just lead to a meltdown if no proper steps are taken to prepare for it. To minimise the stress and ensure a merry season for all, we’ve put together a little guide to help you navigate through the holidays. 

Create a routine and work around it 

You can’t control everything that happens, but you can create some form of organisation with a routine. Establishing a rhythm helps your loved ones feel more comfortable and in control of their environment. Knowing what to expect and what to do next will also offer them peace of mind.

Prepare earbuds and headphones in advance

It’s not always a silent night during the festive seasons. During those times, you’ll want to have earbuds or headphones at hand. These are great for those who live with sensory processing disorders as it helps your loved ones cope with loud or unexpected noises, especially at a party. 

Avoid triggers whenever you can 

If you’re familiar with the things or situations that can trigger a meltdown, try to prepare for it in advance. This can be in the form of certain foods, sounds, situations, noises, or even people. In the event of a meltdown, you’ll want to have tools or toys to help them cope with their discomfort.

Do a quick run-through of the day to manage expectations 

Don’t keep your loved ones wondering what will happen next. Have a chat with them and let them know what they will experience during celebrations or parties. Let them know ahead of time (in detail) what they can expect will happen to them. Perhaps it’s trying new food or meeting distant relatives whom they haven’t seen in a long time. 

Practice like it’s Christmas Day itself 

To take it a step further, you can also do a dry run of what they can expect on the big day itself. If you’re heading somewhere, take them out on a drive to check out the area ahead of time. This can also help you plan for what you may need on that day, such as quiet spots around the vicinity should your loved one need a break from the party.

Let your host know what your loved one needs 

Planning to visit friends or family? Be sure to let them know what your loved one needs to feel comfortable or even what could trigger meltdowns. We all need a little help sometimes, so remember that it’s okay to ask for help or set expectations even to outsiders during this festive season. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas 

As a caregiver, we can occasionally get carried away with planning and worrying. But remember that there’s only so much you can do or control. It’s totally okay if things don’t go out as planned sometimes. Remember to stay present throughout the festivities and enjoy it however it presents itself! After all, there’s no better gift than the gift of time with the ones you love.


AbleLight. (2020) Top 9 Happy Holiday Tips for People with Disabilities and Those Who Love Them [Accessed: 13 December 2022] Available at 

Covey (2020) 5 Ways to Prevent Holiday Stress for Families with Disabilities [Accessed: 14 December 2022] Available at: 

Lydia D. (2019) 3 Tips for Navigating the Holidays with Special Needs [Accessed: 13 December 2022] Available at: 

Rivkie B. (2020) 9 Tips for Navigating Holidays with Special Needs [Accessed: 15 December 2022] Available at: