Christmas is such a magical time of the year, but for children with special needs it can, at times, be quite overwhelming. The change in routine, the crowds, the smells and lights can cause anxiety for children with sensory processing difficulties. With an increased awareness of these issues, Christmas event organisers are gradually becoming more mindful of the need for ‘sensory-friendly’ events for children with special needs, which is fantastic and certainly makes life a little easier.
In this blog, SpecialKids Company will tell you about some of the top Christmas and festive events for special needs children.
Lots of families enjoy the tradition of going to see a pantomime at Christmas. There are lots of bright colours, music and laughter. Whilst some children will be able to manage and enjoy this, those with sensory processing difficulties might find it quite difficult. However, increasingly venues are becoming aware of sensory issues and many now also offer a ‘relaxed’ performance.
Relaxed performances usually have lighting and sound levels adjusted. Loud bangs, flashes and pyrotechnics are removed from the performance and auditorium lights are kept on. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety and make the pantomine a much more enjoyable experience for your family.
Sensory Friendly Santa’s Grottos
Lots of children enjoy visiting Santa’s grotto at Christmas and now lots of venues have ‘sensory-friendly’ sessions with Santa. This means that you can book ahead so that there is no queuing. These sessions have less crowds and sound and lighting is kept to a minimum.
Some Santa’s Grottos, such as those at Dobbies Garden Centres, allow you to pre-select the gift that your child will receive. This is particularly handy for those who have children with cognitive impairments.
Christmas Light Events
Christmas lights can be a wonderful sensory experience for children with special needs. Sometimes it’s nice just to go for a walk around the houses nearby and check out the Christmas lights that have been put up. You can do it at any time and it’s free!
Why not also check out your local Christmas lights switch on? Some organisers offer a quiet area, such as a tent, for those who might find the experience overwhelming.
Accessible Christmas Markets
Christmas markets are a highlight on the UK Christmas calendar. Full of tasty treats and handmade presents, these cosy markets will really give you that Christmas feeling. Across the UK there are various accessible Christmas markets suitable for children with special needs such as Winter Wonderland – Hyde Park London, Frankfurt Christmas Market – Birmingham and Edinburgh Christmas Markets to name a few. If you have any extra special requirements, you should always contact the market hosts for advice.
Lots of big cities around the UK, such as London, Edinburgh and Cardiff, have fantastic Christmas markets. Understandably, Christmas markets won’t work for every child. However, if your child doesn’t mind noise and crowds, it can be a really enjoyable experience with lots to see and smell!
Wheelchair Ice Skating
As always around the festive period there is a lot of ice skating rinks around the UK, what’s great is that most of them are disability friendly! Many ice rinks welcome wheelchairs and cater for disability requirements. It is advised that you ring the venues beforehand to find out whether they can cater for your requirements and if there are specific times and dates.
Light Show Events
It is really worthwhile looking into local light shows. A great example is the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry. There are amazing visuals, sounds and lights that create a fantastic sensory experience through a dark forest. It can be quite simply breath-taking.
Christmas can be an overwhelming time of year for families who have children with special needs. Sometimes the best Christmas activities are the most simple ones, like watching your favourite Christmas movie together. The most important thing to remember is to make your own traditions and do what works for you and your child.
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Swimming is a fantastic inclusive activity to do with children with special needs. It’s a great sensory experience that is good fun and has positive benefits for both physical and mental health. It is also an activity that can be done all year round and doesn’t have to be weather dependent (depending on where you choose to swim!).