Tips for the Holidays and Travel

This time of year is packed with different holidays and much travel. Its either a time that’s super fun to be with families and friends during gatherings and parties.  Or it could be a time of stress and anxiety.

Let’s face it, its time when you double your grocery shopping and some of you may be organizing a dinner in your home. The routine in the home is going to change or if you’re traveling to be with family/ friends its going to be different. If you’re child has sensory processing difficulties.

*Anxiety can lead to or appear as disruptive behavior

These are children with social anxiety resulting from their sympathetic system firing off and causing a fight or flight.

Anxiety can also be caused due to a child’s limited communication or expressive abilities, the child’s limited skills in handling/ coping skills and organize that information.

*Communication issues- child who have limited language or vocabulary are unable to express their needs. If they don’t get understood this can lead to emotional dysregulation resulting in a behavior. To do anything.


* Have realistic expectations for these children. You know what may be the triggers for child.

So they feel comfortable and they will come up to you.

* validating their feelings. Giving them assurance that you’re not going to ask them to do things that may be uncomfortable but that there would be sensory items that they could use to help through such as using headphone, certain scents such as lavender can have a calming effect.

* Think and walk through the situation with children. Reading them a social story of what to expect in  the days to come will help. This includes going shopping  and attending functions.


Let them know you will be going shopping and there may be more people around.

Let them know where to find their sensory items should they need it,

Or if its better for you, you can make arrangements for you child to be cared for at that time. This is your discretion on how much stimulation your child can take at this time.

Attending functions both at and outside

* If the function is at home or in another place.

  • Make sure you bring foods that your child will eat,
  • Get there a little earlier so you child has time to warm up to the people
  • Make sure they know where to get their sensory bag pack is for them to retrieve their sensory items should they need them.
  • Read them a social story where the event will be taking place, what would be the expectations such as relatives / friends will be coming.
  • Everyone would be sitting at the table and food will passed around, there will be people talking and laughing and having fun, there may be music in the background.
  • Child will have a chance to play with their friends/ relatives or if your child is more solitary and needs alone time- this is where they can get their head phones, coloring books or games to play.
  • Prepare their sensory bag pack where they will know where to get items that would help them such as noise cancelling headphones, fidgets, taking deep breathes and a corner with cushions for then to reorganize away from the hustle and bustle ( if this is in your home).
  • If they should start feeling upset or overwhelmed to let you know. State what you’d like for them to do.

This is an example of a social story for Thanksgiving from PositivelyAutism.com.

Thanksgiving Social Skill Story

Social skills templates:

How to Use Personalized Stories

Travel plans:

Depending on the sensory needs of the child, here are some things you may consider

If you are going by flight:

  • remember its going to be crowded, noisy, may be a change in sleep pattern for the child and yourself.
  • you will be sitting in close proximity with others on the flight.
  • Taking off in the flight may cause some discomfort for the child.


  • Noise cancelling head phones or ear plus
  • Sun glasses
  • Fidgets
  • Chewies that can be clipped on to their shirt
  • Sensory snack kit- crunchy items, lollipops
  • Practice on what may be involved in the trip: What they may encounter.
  • Talking them through what to expect and where the items may be found.
  • Favorite blanket
  • Toiletries that are familiar to them so that they don not have to adjust to new scents or texture
  • More frequent stops to give them time to regulate

Veterans Day

Veterans day is a day we honor the men and women who have worn the uniform to proudly serve the country. I will take this time to also give a big shout out to my husband Kolby Shields who served as a Navy bomb technician. Kolby has impressed upon me at a more personal and intimate level the sacrifice, commitment and honor among military personnel.

The military family as a whole needs to be acknowledged – the military spouse and children who stand along side with their military spouse/parent and having to also deal with the many stressors that accompany combat deployment, injury and mental health. Stephanie Yamkovenko, a staff writer from AOTA, interviewed Gregory Leskin the director of UCLA National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Military Family Initiative, a speaker in the 2012 AOTA Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries and PTSD Specialty Conference. Read the Interview

He highlighted eloquently how the military family as a whole serve our country in profound ways and emphasized acknowledging their role and support. As military service, stress and injury not only affects the service member but the family as a whole.

It is estimated that nearly 2 million children and youth are connected with the military and approximately 20% or more have special needs (Military-Connected Children with Special Health Care Needs and Their Families conference, 2014). Military families have immense strength, tenacity and resilience. These military families undergo deployment stresses associated with parental separation with either one or both parents being deployed, frequent moves from one base to another causing disruptions to relationships with friends and having to readjust to new communities and schools. It is estimated that an average military personnel moves every 2 to 3 years, this is three times more than an average American (Military-Connected Children with Special Health Care Needs and Their Families conference, 2014).

Change is constant for these families as they get uprooted and constantly have to be in transitions which entailes changes in schools, medical professionals and support systems. This means a parent with a child with special needs would need to relearn the system to develop a new plan of care for their child every time they move somewhere new,

In a 2014 Military-Connected Children with Special Health Care Needs and Their Families conference, the participants suggested developing communities of care, creating more education and training for service providers. During that conference it was also highlighted that military families with special needs face complex issues and are dependent with both the military and community based programs. It is imperative for us to realize that it is equally important to know the stresses the family undergoes and how to assist these families. Understanding how to support the parents of special needs children in the military is important as they experience a range of emotions such as anxiety and depression. The need for respite for the couple/ parents and workshops was addressed in the conference.

An article that caught my attention as I researched children in the military was “Traumatic Grief in Military Children – An Information for families from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Read More

I found this article which I thought would be especially helpful for parents to understand how to manage not just typical developing children but also children with special needs. It is important to understand how they express grief as we all grief in may different ways. There is no right or wrong way or timeframe to grief. It is also important to realize that not all children develop traumatic grief from the loss of someone close but some do develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Table 1 in the article is especially helpful. Understanding the underlying behavior may bring forth a better understanding and an appreciation of the grief process the child may be going through. Some of the behaviors that may manifest out of the grieving process are:

  • Change in sleep pattern or increased crying
  • Regression of behavior
  • More complains of aches and pains
  • Anger and irritability
  • Irritability and isolation
  • New fears or problems in school
  • Increase in tantrums or emergence of tantrum behaviors
  • Losing interest in things
  • Risky behavior

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has also developed Tip sheet for parents to recognize and help their child with traumatic grief.  Learn More

Example provided in the tip sheet reads:

“ I want you to know that” -“I may isolate myself and feel lonely because I am not with my military friends who “get it” and understand my life.
The response reads “You can help me when you”- “Help me form new friends. Encourage me to decide for myself how I want to keep my past military identity alive”.

“ I want you to know that” – “I really miss my service member. It is confusing to feel really proud and also to feel upset or angry that they died by serving their country.
The response reads “You can help me when you”- “Accept my different feelings and help me find ways to manage my grief, anger, or confusion”.

For children with special needs Social stories is a wonderful medium to use to break down the process for them in a picture form, written form or a combination.

The use of Social stories can be an effective and powerful tool to help your special needs child to understand when a parent or a sibling will be deployed which is a challenging time for the family as a whole. Social stories are short and straight forward describing the deployment in detail with social cues for the child to understand. The social story will help your child understand the change in the social situation and what to expect thereby decreasing their anxiety. The social story also gives the child time to process the information and develop coping skills.  Learn More

Helpful resources for military families with special needs are:

Getting SSI for a Child’s Sensory Integration Disorder
Only when SID is quite severe can a child get SSI disability benefits.

The Exceptional Family Member Program: A Program for Families With Special Needs

War & Sensory Processing

Helping Children Cope When a Loved One Is on Military Deployment

Books for Military Children

Fort Bragg