Help Children With Special Needs Feel Welcome at Your Holiday Party

Photo by Jill111 /

By Gillian Marchenko

The holiday season typically means people get more of everything; more food, more gift giving, more parties and visits. For families who have children with special needs, the holidays usually mean more challenges and less inclusion.

New places with a large amount of people can be overwhelming for a child with special needs. Sometimes parents do not accept invitations to holiday parties because the event is dramatic for the whole family. Other times, they may choose not to attend a party simply because it’s easier to stay home instead of warding off melt downs and explanations of a child’s behavior.

If you are having a get-together this year and would like to include a family with these concerns, here are five tips to help make the night a success for everyone.

1. Invite the family. Even though it can be tricky taking a child with special concerns like sensory processing disorder or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder to a party, families still want to be included. Most parents have creative ways to include their children in the holiday fun. It’s also a great socialization opportunity for any child at the event, both typically developing and those who are differently-abled.

2. Create a quiet space. If a child with special needs will be attending, carve out a quiet place in the corner of your house. Set out a few puzzles, maybe a textured ball or some coloring books and crayons. Any child could use a breather in a party, but even more so for a child with special needs. When the family arrives, show a parent the special retreat.

3. Find out if the child has food allergies. A simple phone call can help you prepare for a child’s dietary needs. For example, if she is allergic to peanuts, make it a nut free evening. That way parents can visit with friends without stressing over what their child is eating.

4. Prepare your family. If you have children, talk to them about their friend coming and about his special needs. Children are curious. They’ll want to know why their friend acts differently. Take a few moments and talk through these issues. A small conversation can help set the tone for a great evening of celebration for everyone.

5. Don’t be offended if the family declines the invitation. Some kids with special needs have medical restrictions or the child and/or family may be going through a particularly stressful season of life. Invite your friends and family who have children with special needs, but don’t be offended if they opt for a quiet night at home instead. Wrap up a few desserts and drop them by some time. It will mean a lot that they were missed.

Gillian Marchenko is an author, speaker, wife and mother of four daughters. She writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection and adoption. Educated at Moody Bible Institute, she served as an administrator for the Evangelical Free Church of American Special Needs Network. Gillian is the author of Sun Shine Down and has written for Chicago ParentThriving FamilyGifted for LeadershipToday’s Christian Woman, and MomSense Magazine. Find her on her website, where this article first appeared, or on Facebook.

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