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Helping special needs children cope with the holidays

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Holidays don't always go together effortlessly with children. For kids with autism or other specials needs, this time of year can be especially overwhelming. WHNT News 19 took action to show you how you might be able to help make it a little easier on them.

The holidays bring a lot of new experiences. For kids with autism the extra noises, smells, and other senses can overwhelm their systems. Speech language pathologist Melissa Layne said parents can help by letting the kids get used to those things at home first.

"Light a candle that might smell like Christmas when you're out and about, [listen to] the music that you'll hear. Sometimes they might have to wear earphones to help drown out the noise," she said.

Layne said during the holidays schedules change frequently. When the kids don't know what's coming, it could make them nervous or upset.

"Let them know ahead of time what is going to happen. You might want to use a picture schedule that says we're going to do this, this, and this, and then we're coming home,"she explained.

Occupational therapist Ruthie Ross said going to see Santa, or being in a room with a lot of noise can be especially stressful for the kids. There are ways to help them cope.

"Finger fidgets, things that they can have to color, those would be very helpful if the parent can plan ahead and have a little bag of goodies ready for them to use," she said.

Ross wants to make parents aware of the resources available to them in the community. Making Connections is one such local group.

"They have sensory friendly movies that are available.They have holiday parties where they have taken into consideration all the sensory needs of the kids in that group," said Ross.

The therapists also said to keep in mind that even if your child doesn't need sensory friendly activities, the holiday season can still be stressful for them as well.