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No More Holi-daze: 6 Tips for Happier Holidays with Complex Learners

Monday, November 23, 2015

 

It’s that time of year.

Whether it’s Thanksgiving or New Year’s, Hanukkah or Christmas, Kwanzaa or Solstice – there’s a whirlwind of activity that brings wonderful, joyful memories but also plenty of stress-filled moments.

For children with complex learning profiles, the holiday experience feels even more intense. Schedules are less predictable, stores are overwhelming, Aunt Betsy from Toledo can’t stop hugging and kissing you, weird food shows up on the table that people want you to eat, and you’re expected to play with cousins you hardly ever see. You’re staying up late, overexcited, and probably eating more sweets. For Complex Learners, it’s a perfect storm of sensory overload and disrupted routines that can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, and meltdowns.

With a little planning and preparation, a lot of potential difficulties can be addressed. Here are a few ideas to help you and your Complex Learner manage this busy time of year and enjoy the special gatherings and activities the holidays bring.

1) Preview visits, parties and family gatherings. Let Complex Learners know what to expect at family or school parties. What happens first? Who will be there? Review social rules like how to greet your host when you get there and thanking your host when you leave. Set a specific amount of time for visits and see if there is a quiet place your child can go if things get too loud or overwhelming. Schedule a check-in time during the visit or party to see if your child needs additional support. If sitting through a large group dinner is hard for your child, agree on a set amount of time they can manage at the table and then let them be excused to play or have some quiet time.

2) Make or bring familiar foods. The holiday dinner table can paralyze Complex Learners with all the choices, smells, and textures. Be sure to make or bring something you know your child likes and will eat, whether it’s a dish to share or some particular foods to have on hand just in case. Your family may raise an eyebrow if everyone is eating turkey and your child is eating chicken nuggets, but it may just be worth avoiding a major struggle. You can always let your host or others know about this ahead of time.

3) A bag of tricks.  Bring sensory supports like gum, fidgets, a noise-blocking headset or a special cushion for the dining room chair. Complex Learners may be uncomfortable in dress clothes so if they need to wear something more formal, bring their favorite sweatpants to change into after a set amount of time. Have a selection of quiet activities you child can do like puzzles, card games or coloring books.  Having a handheld device with electronic games or a favorite DVD to watch as a backup can save the day.

4) Gift Getting 101. Complex Learners may need to practice what to do if they receive a gift they don’t like or how to stop and say thank you before charging on to open another gift. Role-play various scenarios ahead of time and help your child understand the perspective of the gift giver. Try and keep things simple – too many gifts can be overwhelming to Complex Learners.

5) Go outside. The weather may not always cooperate, but long visits and family meals need to be balanced with fresh air, movement and exercise. It’s important to keep your child engaged in physical activity to help with sensory and emotional regulation. A family game of tag or a holiday hike will go a long way.

6) Think of others. Help your child find simple ways to give to family members and friends so they can experience how it feels to give and not just receive.  Let your child select clothes or toys to donate to kids in need or find opportunities to give back to the community. This time of year is a natural fit for learning perspective taking and helping kids think outside of their own view and needs.

Don’t forget - managing holiday stress is a team effort. Rely on teachers, friends and family to support you as you work to make things easier for your complex learner. And remember to breathe! Taking a minute to relax and breathe deeply is a simple thing you can do with your child or by yourself to help alleviate the daze of the holidays!

 

Anna Johnson, Head of The Wolf School

Anna Johnson is Head of School at The Wolf School in East Providence, a K-8 private special education school serving complex learners.  www.thewolfschool.org

This series is a partnership between GoLocal and the Wolf School.

 

Related Slideshow: 50 Ways to Give in Rhode Island This Holiday Season

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During the holiday season, St. Mary¹s looks to their friends in the community to help make the season a bright one for the children. For giving suggestions, please visit our website at http://www.smhfc.org. or contact Susan DeRita at 353-3900 x262 or by e-mail, [email protected] for additional information or giving options.

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Children's Friend

153 Summer Street, Providence 

The Children's Friend annual Spirit of Giving Holiday Drive is under way looking to match generous individuals and organizations with families in need across the state. 

The goal for 2015 Children's Friend Giving Holiday Drive is to sponsor 1,450 families and 4,500 children during the month of December. 

New coats, clothing, toys, books and bikes will be collected at Children's Friend. 

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Community MusicWorks

1392 Westminister Street

The Mission of Community MusicWorks is to create a cohesive urban community through music education and performance. The model is built  arond teaching, mentoring, program design and performance activities.

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WellOne Primary Medical and Dental Care

308 Callahan Road, North Kingstown

36 Bridge Way, Pascoag

142A Danielson PIke, Foster

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372 West Fountain Street, Providence

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743 Westminister Street, Providence

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500 Greenwich Ave, Warwick

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Day One

100 Medway Street, Providence

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FirstWorks

270 Westminister Street, Providence

FirstWorks helps connect art and music with the audiences helping to provide art shows, concerts and festivals to Rhode  Island.

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AIDS Care Ocean State

18 Parkis Avenue, Providence

The mission of AIDS Care Ocean State is to provide housing, case management, medical and nursing care, and prevention to adults, families, adolescents and children who are affected by or at risk for HIV infection.

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Amos House

415 Friendship St., Providence, RI 

Amos House accepts monetary donations to support the training, housing, and recovery programs they provide for the hungry, homeless and unemployed in Rhode Island. 

The organization also accepts donations in-kind such as gently used strollers, pillowcases, laundry detergent, baby formula, and first aid kits for the families who participate in their programs.

Photo: Amos House

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Big Brothers Big Sisters Give-a-Thon at Barnes & Noble

1350 Bald Hill Road, Warwick

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The goal for the day to raise $12,000 for BBBSOS’ mission; to provide mentors to the youth of Rhode Island who will motivate and empower them to make positive decisions, improve academic results, avoid risky behaviors and grow in a way that will positively impact the community.

Barnes and Noble Warwick will donate up to 20% of all sales including books, toys, holiday items and even café items will go back to BBBSOS.  (Shoppers must use code 11671864 at checkout or mention BBBSOS.)

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438 East Main Road, Middletown, RI

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18 Valley Street, Jamestown

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National Federation of the Blind

P.O. Box 14404 East Providence

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Barrington Tap-in

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Dorcas International Institute of RI

220 Elmwood Avenue, Providence

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McAuley Ministries

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center

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Rhode Island Food Bank

200 Niantic Ave, Providence, RI

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Most needed items include: peanut butter, tuna, canned and dried beans, canned chili, soups and stews. 

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Operation Stand Down RI

1010 Hartford Ave, Johnston, RI

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Help our troops come home and get back on their feet by donating to Operation Stand Down. 

You can also help by organizing food drives for their other locations. 

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Save the Bay

100 Save The Bay Drive, Providence, RI

Donate or volunteer at Save the Bay this holiday.

By doing so, you can assist in clean ups and help preserve the natural environment of wildlife in Rhode Island.

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MAE Organization for the Homeless

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RI Blood Center

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Sojourner House

386 Smith St., Providence, RI

Sojourner House, Inc. is a domestic violence agency that assists victims of relationship violence by providing shelter, advocacy and violence prevention education.

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Rhode Island Mayoral Academies

160 Westminister Street, Suite 202, Providence

The Rhode Island Mayoral Academies are committed to identifying high-quality school leaders and operators to open excellent racially and socioeconomically diverse public schools in areas of Rhode Island with a shortage of school choice.

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Best Buddies Rhode Island

25 Esten Avenue, Pawtucket

Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

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Books are Wings

1005 Main Street, Suite 8233A, Pawtucket 

Founded in 1998, Books Are Wings is a group of volunteers who are committed to literacy, reading, libraries, and fun. 

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FabNewport

1 Yorke Street, Newport

FabNewport uses technology as a platform for empowerment. Students are encouraged to discover their passions through play. Play means having time to fiddle, tinker and experiment with materials in encouraging environment supported by a coach.

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Johnnycake Center

1231 Kingstown Rd., Peace Dale, RI 

The Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale collects food and other items for its annual holiday program to help families in need and is run by youth volunteer members of Teen Jonnycake.

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Bayside Family YMCA

70 West Street, Barrington

The mission of the YMCA s to build healthy spirit, mind and body for all, through programs, services and relationships that are based upon our core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

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Part of the Oath

P.O. Box 40758 Providence

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Rock Paper Scissors

38 Asa Pond Rd., Wakefield, RI

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You can even donate a bike to children who often have to walk long distances to get to school. 

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New Urban Arts

743 Westminster St., Providence, RI

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Crossroads RI

160 Broad St, Providence, RI

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RI Foundation

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Choose your cause and help one of the many organizations in your

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Hope Funds for Cancer

226 Bellevue Ave., Newport, RI

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Support Our Troops

325 Laurel Ridge Ln., N. Kingstown, RI

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Children’s Wishes of RI

2346 Post Rd, Warwick, RI

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Photo: Children's Wishes of Rhode Island

 
 

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