Navigating Behaviors: During our daily lives, we get into routines that help us stay on track, feel comfortable, and accomplish the things we need to. However, there are certain periods of time when our routines get interrupted and we face changes in what we’re used to doing. These transition periods can sometimes be difficult to deal with if you don’t prepare ahead of time. This is especially important for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), who often rely on daily routines to avoid situations that can cause anxiety and behavioral changes.

The holidays are a particularly challenging time for this, as many different circumstances that are out of the ordinary arise. Individuals with IDD can have difficulty with transitions and social interactions during this time because of things like spending extended time with family and friends, going shopping for presents, traveling, and even transitioning back to living at home during the holidays from care facilities or community residences. So, what can you do to help? In this article, we’ll look at why consistency and routine are such an important part of navigating behaviors for people with IDD, especially during the holidays.

How To Navigate Behaviors and Make the Holidays More Accessible for Individuals With IDD

While the holidays have the capacity to bring unwanted surprises and sensory overload for those with IDD, it is possible to avoid many of those obstacles by understanding what they are and preparing ahead of time. You can’t completely control every situation and the things that happen in them, but you can focus on making the holidays more accessible for everyone involved. There are steps you can take to make sure that your holiday celebrations are enjoyable, safe, and inclusive for your loved ones with IDD.

Here are some of the ways you can help to make the holidays more accessible and successful for everyone:

  • Plan Ahead – One of the most important things you can do to help individuals with IDD during the holidays is to plan ahead. An essential part of this is to also include them in the planning as much as possible. You should try to plan out each day, both the time you will be spending at home and the time you will be outside the house.

This way, you can build a routine—as much as possible—for the times when you are at home, helping to provide consistency for your loved one with IDD. Start with having set meal times, a bathing schedule, planned time for activities, and more, all of which can be beneficial and crucial to the IDD population.

Then, you can create a plan ahead of time for events and other activities you know you’ll be attending, like a family holiday party. This helps everyone know what to expect, what your options are, and how to respond if something goes wrong. Set a time limit on how long you are staying and stick to that commitment.

  • Be Consistent (as Much as You Can) – After you’ve formulated your plan(s), you should be consistent and stick to them as much as possible. When you are at home, follow your daily routine as much as you can. This will help individuals with IDD to feel more comfortable and secure, since it limits changes and opportunities for unwanted surprises. It can also help to prepare them for some of the activities that will be outside the home or involve a lot of people.

Even the best plans will go wrong at some point, so understand that things won’t be perfect. But by creating your plan ahead of time and sticking to it, you will put yourself and your loved one with IDD in the best position to enjoy the holidays.

  • Educate Family Members and Friends – Another useful step toward helping individuals with IDD enjoy the holidays is to educate family members and friends about their needs. This includes letting people know how your loved one likes to interact, what they like to talk about, whether they appreciate being touched or not, and more. Overall, let people know what is and isn’t okay. Making sure everyone is on the same page and understands what is acceptable is crucial to creating an inclusive, stress-free environment that your loved one can enjoy.
  • Be Prepared To Leave – Part of planning ahead involves being prepared to leave in the event that a situation becomes overstimulating or problematic. If possible, you should consider taking two cars to events so you know that you can leave if you need to. You should also understand the warning signs if your loved one is becoming overstimulated or stressed so you can intervene before the situation intensifies. Leaving also shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing, but instead as a way to help your loved one with IDD. Going into the situation understanding that this may be a possibility will limit the stress and anxiety for everyone involved.
  • Include Them in Holiday Activities – As mentioned in the planning section, helping individuals with IDD during the holiday season does not mean excluding them or avoiding all holiday activities. Instead, talk with your loved one about what their favorite holiday activities are and come up with a plan to do those things. This could involve choosing decorations for the house, baking holiday cookies, shopping for presents, singing to holiday music, watching movies, or even making presents and decorations themselves as a creative outlet. Ultimately, realize that they enjoy certain parts of the holidays, too, and make it a point to provide those opportunities.

At New Concepts for Living (NCFL), our mission is to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and it is the fundamental force that makes us the premier community for adults with IDD in New Jersey. We are committed to caring for and nurturing adults challenged with special needs so they can attain their highest level of wellness, independence, and achievement. This includes supporting them and their families during the holidays so they can make this time as inclusive, enjoyable, and stress-free as possible.

Our meticulously maintained homes and caring staff enable us to provide the highest level of service for the individuals we care for. We also work to continuously improve our services and homes in order to provide the best care for our residents now and in the future.

In addition, NCFL has an Adult Achievement Center Day Program that offers the most robust and diverse calendar of activities for those we serve. We understand that a busy and productive life is the key to leading a fulfilling life and promoting mental health.

We recognize the need for quality services for every extraordinary individual in northern New Jersey and are committed to expanding. NCFL is currently building new community residences (group homes) in Old Tappan, Mahwah, Hillsdale, and Upper Saddle River—as well as planning to open a larger Day Program Facility in 2023—and is dedicated to finding ways to further expand and grow to better serve our community! You can learn more about the work we do, make a donation to support our mission, contact us for more information, or request placement for a loved one today!

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