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The holiday season is supposed to be full of joy and excitement. We are supposed to look forward to visits from family and friends or to travel to see them. However, when you have young children or a family member with special needs then you need to rethink your holiday plans.

Making the Holidays a Little Easier
Perhaps these suggestions will help you to negotiate through the holiday season easier.

  • Communicate with Family. If you do decide to host family members for the holidays be sure to communicate with them ahead of time some of the nuances about your children. Such as, “Mary doesn’t liked to be hugged”, “Evan tends to prefer to eat before the rest of the family and only with plastic silverware” or “Tim will scream when frustrated, simply try to ignore this behavior, as this will help him to settle down”. If you feel that your guests will not be able to maintain your family rhythm consider asking them to stay in a hotel/motel or to shorten the visit length.
  • Evaluate Your Travel Destination. If you plan to travel yourselves first evaluate the situation so you are not setting up your family for an unpleasant experience. Does your host understand any accommodations or adaptations that need to be made? Will you need to buy or bring certain foods, dishes, cups, soap or pillows? Is there an animal in the home that may not be a good match for your child’s company?
  • Travel on Non-Peak Days. If you are planning on a vacation holiday with family and friends try to travel after the prime travel season, such as the week after New Years. Amusement parks can be especially stressful and for a child with special needs they can be an impossible situation due to sensory overload. If you have other children who wish to spend the day on roller-coasters consider dividing and conquering your family by having one adult go swirl at high speeds while another may just laze by a pool with the child who needs a quieter environment.

Sensory-Friendly Places
Here are some of my favorite and sensory-friendly places to visit in the United States. Please add yours in the comment section below and have a wonderful holiday season!

  • Dana Point/ San Juan Capistrano, California. This part of Orange County is full of wide open beaches, few crowds and plenty of sunshine. San Juan Capistrano has a lovely mission that is very pretty, historical and has enough room for kids to run without bumping in to visitors. Very family and pet friendly!
  • Cape May, New Jersey. Most people think of east coast beaches in the Mid-Atlantic region as warm month vacations only. However, Cape May has almost a four-season vacation cycle. This is a favorite among my family year-round. The restaurants are magnificent and the town is very family friendly.
  • Sanibel Island, Florida. You want sunshine and warm waters to help you relax and rejuvenate? Well, try the west coast of Florida, including Sanibel Island. Also, consider other wonderful beaches along the coast of Alabama.
  • Lake Placid, New York and Park City, Utah. For you who love snow, these are wonderful places to explore – both with Olympic villages and world-class skiing.
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Louise is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and a contributor to the JustAsk forum on She has been teaching American Sign Language for over 20 years and can be found at Signing Families.