Although the holiday season is typically thought to be a well needed break from the chaos of school and extracurriculars, in the mind of a neurodivergent child, the holidays may just lead to more.
Why Might This Occur?
According to a study conducted by Ellen Braaten, PhD, readying ourselves to face stress requires what Braaten and other professionals refer to as “shifting set”, which refers to our ability to update or shift cognitive strategies to respond to the changes in our environment.
These changes to our environment during the holiday season may range from increased time spent with the family, to busier schedules, to simply holiday decorations.
The tough part Braaten says “is that shifting, which can be hard for us at any point in the year, is particularly pervasive at the holidays.” (Edwards, 2015). Shifting set is a type of executive functioning, a set of mental skills that helps us get things done. These skills include managing time, being attentive, switching focus, planning, and organizing, and remembering details.
As people who are neurodivergent struggle with these functions on a daily basis, the greater demand for these functions during the holidays becomes overwhelming.
Some Ways to Help:
- Have a Plan – Having a plan will allow your child to understand the events on the calendar and will help avoid sensory overload as they will know plans in advance.
- Keep a Routine – Maintaining structured routines will allow your child to have some constants in a time of change. Try to keep a bedtime routine or keep up to date with chores.
- Break Holiday Events into Small Chunks – Planning too much in one day may overstimulate your child and lead them to engaging in unpredictable behaviors.
- Create a Safe Space for Your Child – Discuss ways your child can take a break if they’re social battery becomes drained such as having a designated quiet area they can go into or creating a safe word so they can indicate when they need a break.
- Make Sure Your Needs are Being Met – Being in a neurodivergent family can be tough in itself. It is ok to ask for help during the hectic holiday season. It is harder to help your child when you are overwhelmed as well.
Creating a happier holiday season for you and your neurodivergent child. Planet Neurodivergent. (2021, May 15). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.planetneurodivergent.com/creating-a-happier-holiday-season-for-you-and-your-neurodivergent-child/
Mental Health & Holidays. Holidays & Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.theminiadhdcoach.com/blog/mental-health-holidays
Neurodiversity and the holiday season. Exceptional Individuals. (2021, December 2). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://exceptionalindividuals.com/about-us/blog/neurodiversity-and-the-holiday-season/
Planning a sensory-friendly and neurodiversity-honoring Holiday Celebration. “Planning a Sensory-Friendly and Neurodiversity-Honoring Holiday Celebration” | EP Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
A fourth-year Psychology major at Farmingdale State College. While working toward becoming a clinical psychologist for children, I currently work as a behavior therapist for children with autism. Apart from academics, I love to spend time with my friends and family, dance, and listen to music!