With the holiday season just around the corner, now is an opportune time to consider a few new family
strategies that can help you create a more meaningful holiday for your sibling. Some individuals find that
the holidays can be a time of distress, sensory overload and anxiety when their routines are changed.
Here are some ideas to support your sibling to navigate family holiday events and help to make their
experiences positive, memorable and meaningful
Begin by planning ahead. Share some photos of previous family holidays to help remind your sibling of
what the holiday together means, the history of your family traditions and how this year’s visit will
unfold. Knowing what to expect will help your sibling manage anxiety and allows time for you to address
questions and concerns. Collaborate together on the length of the event. For instance, if your sibling
seems anxious to know when Thanksgiving dinner will start, set an alarm on your cell phone and share it
as a “special alert” between the two of you. Be aware that your sibling may feel better in the morning
than in later afternoon or evening when they are tired so schedule the holiday event during their best
time. Establish a location with your sibling that can become a “safe zone” where they can retreat, as
needed, if they begin to feel overwhelmed. Have a favorite activity, book, or snack on hand to help them
return to a state of comfort.
You may have some extended family members who do not see your sibling as often as you do or who
don’t fully understand their disability. You can empower relatives with advanced information about
your sibling. Send out an update on your sibling prior to the family event and include information from
My Year which documents new experiences and places visited. Point out how the person has grown
over the year, topics they enjoy discussing, activities to avoid and some things that may present a
challenge at the celebration. This will guide everyone to a more enjoyable time together. Remember
that you help to set the tone for the event, so be self-aware of your own tension or anxiety as family and
If the time together centers around attending church, synagogue or a community arts event, you may
want to plan to sit near an exit. If your sibling experiences sensory overload, the family can leave quietly
without disturbing the performance. Lights, smells, sitting closely, sounds, etc. can all contribute to
heightened anxiety, so be aware if your sibling needs to take a quiet break.
Gift exchanges can be a challenge, but planning ahead can help. Send family members some ideas of
gifts that your sibling might enjoy receiving. Also, include those gift ideas that should be avoided. Wrap
presents so that they are very easy to open to minimize possible frustration. Keep track of the gift giver
so that you can help your sibling send a thank you card later.
Giving back can often times be more rewarding than receiving a gift. There are many reasons and
benefits to encourage your sibling to participate in the holiday tradition of gift giving. Consider the
individual’s talents and interests and find opportunities to incorporate their love of singing, crafting,
reading aloud, drawing or baking as a gift. Ask your sibling to take some photos with your cell phone and
help them create unique note cards for family members. Whether creating gifts or shopping in the
community, the time together will help to strengthen your special relationship and add more meaning
to your sibling’s holiday.