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While most children are excited to celebrate the holiday season, many children with developmental delays and disabilities struggle this time of year. The lights, sounds, and crowds can be overwhelming for special needs kids. The experts at The Warren Center, a nonprofit agency providing professional evaluations, therapy services and support to children with developmental delays and disabilities — have found ways to control the chaos to create an experience that is fun for the whole family at their annual Operation Santa event. The nonprofit recently welcomed more than 400 children and their families to celebrate the season in a sensory-friendly way with their specialized event, Operation Santa, on December 8, 2019, at Venue Forty/50 in Addison, TX.  

For those who are interested in learning how to celebrate the season in a sensory-friendly way, the experts at The Warren Center recommend the following tips to enjoy a sensory-friendly holiday season: 

Avoid sensory overload

Consider shopping online or having someone pick up gifts for you. The crowds, sounds and lights of busy stores can be too much for a child with developmental delays and disabilities. 

Choose sensory-friendly holiday options

Flashing lights on a Christmas tree might be overwhelming to a child with developmental delays and disabilities, but a strand of lights that gently changes colors might be a good alternative. Most LED Christmas lights offer softer choices to enjoy the twinkling. To avoid waiting in long lines to see Santa, do your homework to see what sensory-friendly shops and events are happening around town, or consider hosting your own visit from Santa at home. 

Make gifts easy to open

Kids with disabilities may not have the motor skills needed to unwrap a gift with a lot of tape or bows. Make gifts easy to open by loosely wrapping with a little bit of tape or use gift bags. 

Plan an exit strategy 

The holiday season may require attending religious outings, choir performances, holiday shows and more. Chances are your child may need to take a break or go outside—and if the whole family needs to leave—you can do it quickly without disturbing anyone if you make sure you have a seat near the aisle or close to the exit. 

Bring your child’s favorite food and toys 

Many children with developmental delays and disabilities are picky eaters. To avoid the struggle of sitting through a traditional holiday meal that may feature unfamiliar foods, pack a lunchbox with a few of your child’s favorite foods, so hunger doesn’t add to the stress. Consider also bringing your child’s favorite toy, book, or tablet to help your child feel as comfortable as they can be.  

The Warren Center is a nonprofit agency providing professional evaluations, therapy services and support to children with developmental delays and disabilities. The center serves over 1,000 children each week as well as their families. Services include speech, occupational and physical therapy; developmental services; and nutrition as well as family education and support. The Early Childhood Intervention Program serves the entire northern half of Dallas County in 48 ZIP codes. Founded in 1968, 2018 marked The Warren Center’s 50th anniversary. For more information, please visit https://www.thewarrencenter.org or follow The Warren Center on Facebook and Twitter.

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