Connections - 12.21.22

Give the People You Support the Gift of a Happy Holiday Season

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No matter what religion or system of beliefs the people you serve and their families adhere to, the holiday season brings the potential for overstimulation. What are traditionally seen as celebratory, relationship-strengthening activities of the season can often cause undue stress for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Large gatherings of friends and family, and bright (sometimes blinking) lights both inside and outside the home are the main culprits. But seemingly smaller occurrences too, such as changes in schedules or routines, can cause anxiety among some people with I/DD.

To help the people you support have a happy and healthy holiday season, it’s important to help them avoid, or more effectively cope with, settings that can cause anxiety and sensory overload. But balancing these needs with their desire to celebrate the holidays is easier said than done. So, what can you, as an I/DD provider, do to keep those you serve and their families happy this holiday season? Below are a few suggestions.

  • Work to establish a schedule. Altering routines can prove to be a rather stressful experience. One great way to lessen anxiety around the holiday season is to work with the people you serve and their families to create a schedule beforehand. By creating a schedule that they will stick to together, you can empower the people you serve while giving them the necessary supports they need to avoid schedule-induced stress.
  • Plan appropriate activities. Make sure people with I/DD can get in on the holiday fun! Work with those you serve and their families or caregivers to plan holiday-themed activities that will not prove overstimulating or anxiety-inducing. For instance, some individuals may have light and sound sensitivity, so attending a loud holiday light festival wouldn’t be an ideal experience for them. Instead, plan a quiet indoor event like creating crafts or baking cookies. Also, make sure to tailor these activities to each person’s cultural background and the holidays they celebrate.
  • Keep gatherings small. To help limit the potential for overstimulation, you may want to advise the loved ones of the people you serve to keep holiday gatherings small. While this will vary from person to person, keeping gatherings and parties more intimate can help greatly reduce the potential for negative outcomes. What’s more, by giving the people you serve the opportunity to have more one-on-one social interactions with family, you can use this setting to help them practice their social skills.
  • Know the signs of sensory overload and stress. Unfortunately, no matter how well prepared the people you serve and their families are for the holiday season, stressful moments may still occur. Make sure they know to look out for the signs of stress or sensory overload, including shutting down and withdrawing from the social setting, becoming more physically or verbally aggressive, and losing interest in activities you know they normally enjoy.

By employing these tactics, you can help make sure that the people you serve have a happy holiday and a safe New Year.

Jordan Baker is the Content Marketing Manager at Relias, where he works with subject matter experts across disciplines to shape health care content designed to improve clinical practice, staff expertise and patient outcomes.