In this second of a four-week series, two RDI parents and CITs, Annie Denning Hille and Vicki Parnell, write about how to make the holidays more enjoyable, RDI-style.

Today we’ll discuss staying regulated and providing appropriate personalized supports to help children find more enjoyment during holiday celebrations.

Last week, we talked about carefully planning activities and honoring rituals for the holidays, being sure to say no to things that could cause more stress than benefit. This week, we will explore personalized supports for our apprentices (and ourselves!).

The holidays are such a special and enjoyable time of year, but they can also be incredibly stressful! RDI empowers us to adjust our expectations and support our children to enjoy the holidays in ways that work for them. Psychologist Dr. Ross Greene* says, “Children do well if they can.” Finding the things that help your child do well and sticking to them makes an especially big difference at this time of year.

Previewing and reviewing will help you build a support plan. Recall what has worked well in the past, as well as what has caused difficulty for your child, and carefully visualize the most important events step-by-step.
Next, imagine what supports you could provide during the moments that might be most challenging. If spending the entire day at a relative’s house is too much, can you arrange for a quiet room where you and your child can go to calm down? If visiting Santa at the mall causes sensory overload, can you avoid the lines by finding a program for kids with special needs? Perhaps gift-opening can be structured in a calm way? If you’re planning to attend large gatherings where you know your child is likely to be overwhelmed, talk to the hosts ahead of time, asking for the support or adaptations your child needs in order to be successful. It’s amazing what people might offer or be willing to do to help.

Religious ceremonies can be a challenging time to sit still and remain quiet, but can also be an important aspect of ritual, celebration, and community at this time of year. Talk with your child ahead of time about the expectations, and provide them with quiet activities, or soothing items, when they become restless. Draw a picture with your child of what to expect, or help them create a social story around what they might see and hear and how you’d like them to behave. One family shared how supportive and inclusive their church community has been in accommodating their daughter who has ASD. Being up-front with the church leadership has helped the church to understand what this family needs in order to participate fully.

Experienced apprentices can participate in planning for their own support needs. Reviewing memories of past holidays, and planning how to handle overwhelming feelings can be an empowering process for our children. It’s important to keep in mind that the apprentice may be so quickly overwhelmed that he forgets about the plan. As guides, we may need to be pro-active, and perhaps even firmly insist on a break if we notice signs that regulation is breaking down.

Adjust your expectations of your child. She may be beautifully regulated on a typical day, but suddenly appear to be “regressing” into meltdowns and challenging behavior because her reserves are depleted from handling holiday excitement. Our children may not be able to communicate how fun or difficult their day was verbally, but a meltdown at home might be a clue. Take time to sit down quietly at home, reconnect with your apprentice, and provide some soothing together time. Take time to re-center yourself as a guide, also. Remember the supports that you need for parenting and do your best to remember self-care.

Even the most carefully planned event can be derailed. Doing our best in the moment to remain calm and present is sometimes the best we can expect from ourselves as parents and guides. Providing appropriate personalized supports can empower us as guides, and help our apprentices regulate their behavior and emotions and experience more of the joy of this season.


*(More information on Dr. Greene’s work can be found at and at

Annie HilleAnnie Denning Hille is an RDI consultant in training in Portland, Oregon. She and her husband are parenting two boys, ages 7 and 9.
Her 9 year old is on the spectrum. She embraces the gifts autism can bring and is thrilled to be supporting other parents and families using RDI.
She can be found at



vicki parnellVicki Parnell lives in Burnaby, British Columbia with her husband, Jeff,
and their two marvelous teenagers.
She is an avid cook, a distance runner, a voracious reader, and she travels whenever she can.
As an RDI consultant, Vicki wants to empower parents as the experts on their own children, and restore a sense of hope and confidence to families affected by ASD

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This