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15 Ways to Create New Christmas Traditions With Your Special Needs Child

Christmas is a fun and exciting time of year, but it can also be overwhelming or tiring for kids who have special needs. We’ve put together a list of appropriate activities that you might like to enjoy together in the lead up to December 25. It’s a great way to create some heartwarming traditions for your family.

1. Get photos taken with Sensory Santa

More and more shopping centres are getting on board with the idea of a “Sensory Santa”, in efforts to make Christmas photos more inclusive for kids with special needs. These sessions are often held outside opening hours, with no background music, bright lights or long queues to trigger those who have sensory issues.

Why we love it: Anything that helps kids enjoy Christmas get the thumbs up from us. Many of the sessions have wheelchair access too!

2. Decorate the house

Getting the kids to deck the halls with holly – or tinsel – is a great way to spend the afternoon, and can encourage creativity and help dexterity. Lots of decorations these days are made of sturdy materials like plastic instead of glass, so there’s no worry about things breaking if they get dropped.

Why we love it: There is no better way to start building excitement around Christmas than to drag those decorations out of storage.

3. Make a charitable donation

Appreciating your blessings and giving to those less fortunate are a big part of the Christmas spirit. You could always get the kids to help choose a gift to put under the “Wishing Tree” or pack a handbag full of personal goods for “Share the Dignity”. Talk to your kids, and see if there is a charity they are passionate about.

Why we love it: Not only does this help people who in need, it also teaches your kids important lessons about gratitude, empathy and compassion.

4. Baking Christmas treats

Kids can learn so many important life skills while helping out in the kitchen, and it’s always lovely to share some sweet treats afterwards. The different smells and textures create a fun and intriguing sensory experience, and it helps kids practice their motor skills. Being involved in cooking can also help fussy eaters.

Why we love it: Being in the kitchen is such a simple yet enjoyable experience to share with your kids. And you don’t even have to leave home.

5. Wrap Christmas presents together

This is probably one for older children, but the little kids will probably want to jump in and get involved as well. Wrapping presents is a fun way to practice those fine motor skills, and to work on dexterity as well. And remember, they don’t need to be wrapped perfectly – it’s all about the Christmas spirit.

Why we love it: Let’s face it – wrapping presents can be pretty tedious! Getting everyone involved can make it much more fun.

6. Walk around looking at Christmas lights

Most neighbourhoods have people who love decorating the outside of their houses with Christmas lights and displays. If it is not too overhwhelming for your child it is lovely to take an evening stroll (or a roll) down some of the streets that really get onboard with the Chrissy bling.

Why we love it: There is something so magical about rows of houses that are lit up with Christmas lights, and it’s completely free!

7. Read Christmas books together

Advent calenders are a great way to countdown to Christmas, and there are some awesome ideas online showing how to wrap a book to read on every day of December. Reading is a great way to boost those receptive and expressive language skills, and is a lovely, calm way to connect with your kids.

Why we love it: There are some fantastic books out there for kids, and it’s a great way to teach them about the significance and meaning of Christmas.

8. Write Christmas cards

They are going out of vogue a little, but written Christmas cards are a lovely way to connect with people at the end of the year. For the kids, it’s a great way to practice those fine motor skills and work on their self-expression and written communication skills as well.

Why we love it: Writing cards is a bit of a dying art in the digital age, and everyone loves getting something in the mail that’s not a bill to pay.

9. Singing Christmas carols

If your children are verbal, singing Christmas carols together is a lovely way to celebrate the festive season. It can also be an accessible way for kids to learn about the history of Christmas, and why it has become such a spiritually important day for people. And it’s fun.

Why we love it: What’s not to love about Christmas music? And singing!

10. Watch Christmas movies together

Every family has their favourite Christmas movies, and in amongst all the stress and overwhelm in the lead up to December 25 it can be nice to take time out to have a movie night with some of your favourites. We love “Elf” with Will Ferrel in our house, and it’s like catching up with old friends.

Why we love it: It’s a great, chilled out way to enjoy a little bit of the Christmas spirit. And it can be done in your pyjamas.

11. Make presents for teachers and therapists

Nothing says Christmas like home made gifts. DIY craft is a nice way to make something unique for teachers and therapists, as a way to thank them for all their hard work. Crafting is an awesome sensory experience, and it allows kids to flex those creative muscles and practice their fine motor skills.

Why we love it: It’s an awesome personalised “thank you” gesture to the teachers and therapists who do such great work with our kids.

12. Write a Christmas list together

If it’s not too overwhelming for your child it can be fun to sit down with a bunch of toy catalogues and start working on a “wish list” for Santa. Depending on your child’s age and developmental stage it might also be an opportunity to turn that list into a letter for Santa too.

Why we love it: Letters to Santa are a delightful tradition that can get the kids excited about Christmas – and are a nice heads-up for Santa’s “helpers” as well…

13. Make a Santa mask

It’s amazing what you can do with some cardboard, cotton balls and paint. This simple activity is a fun one, and depending on their age and skill level you can help your child make a very cool looking Santa mask – very good for that fine motor practice.

Why we love it: It’s also great for vocabulary building, as you talk about the parts of Santa’s face and practice those “ho ho hos!”

14. Build a gingerbread house

Depending on you – and your child’s – skill level, gingerbread houses can be fun to make. If baking everything from scratch is not quite achieveable, there are many reasonably priced gingrebread house kits that are ready and waiting for you to assemble and decorate them.

Why we love it: It’s yummy and creative at the same time, and the kids can decorate to their heart’s content.

15. Take a break!

Christmas is an exciting time, but it can also be overwhelming, frustrating and incredibly tiring. Remember that it is OK to say no to invitations and events if it’s all getting too much. Sometimes, the nicest times are the ones where we all just stay at home together and do absolutely nothing.

Why we love it: Taking time out at the busiest time of the year is a must for everyone’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Enjoy the serenity.

We hope this list helps inspire some ideas and we wish you and your family a safe and enjoyable Christmas. Just remember – there aren’t any hard and fast rules about celebrating, and the best part about Christmas is that every family develops their own set of traditions. Do as little or as much as you like!

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