Holiday Overexcitabilities: Paring Things Down


I often post about how frustrating my kids’ overexcitabilities can be.  They’re difficult to live with at times, and we structure our life around our kids’ abilities to cope with things.  But sometimes, their overexcitabilities are a great asset for the family, and the holiday season helps me remember that.

Holidays are hard for a lot of people.  For kids (and adults) with overexcitabilities it can be excruciating.  Too loud, too many lights, too many people, food they can’t eat: it’s too much.  Holiday parties are a nightmare, and you can forget waiting in a long line to see Santa.  The last time we tried pictures with Santa, the Destroyer went ballistic and the Engineer’s whole face was paralyzed with anxiety at the thought of sitting with this red, rotund stranger for even a minute.  (yes, I know there are sensory Santas around – I decided the anxiety would kill the deal anyway.)

So we skip a lot of things.  We pare things down to the bare minimum.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that.

When we cut out the extras,  our family focuses on the things that really matter.  Making gingerbread houses as a family, kids giggling at the roof design Mr. Genius came up with.  The kids helping with the small amount of Christmas lights we put up and gasping when we plug them in for the first time.  I rarely ever spend the holiday cooking, because what’s the point when family isn’t here and the kids won’t eat it anyway?  Holidays are special, not because of the stuff we buy or the food we cook, but because of our special family traditions and time we spend together.

On Thanksgiving we put up our Christmas tree.  It’s a big deal around here, despite the rather weird-looking cluster of ornaments at the top (out of the Destroyer’s range.)  When I was a kid we had a tradition of buying a Christmas ornament each year that represented something about that year.  When I pull out my collection of ornaments the kids love looking at things that I acquired as a child.  We’ve continued a similar tradition for our kids, but we’re making the ornaments instead of buying them.

This year we’re doing leaf rubbings with sparkly crayons, then watercolor the paper in a kind of wax-resist process.  I love them, the kids had fun, and it represents an important milestone for the Engineer this year: Scouts.  He learned to do leaf rubbings at a Scout meeting and loved it!

I had an epiphany this holiday as I started planning for things: my kids and their needs take precedence over everyone else.  As long as I focus on that the overexcitabilities will be manageable.  Instead of expecting my kids to suffer through it, I’m trying to make sure that suffering isn’t on the menu in the first place.

We had to cancel our annual Christmas trip to see Mr. Genius’ grandmother this year due to car and finance issues.  I deeply regret that my kids won’t be able to connect with their grandparents and cousins this year, but I confess, I’m relieved.  I’m relieved because we don’t have to put them (and us!) through the grueling 20 hour drive to get there.  I’m relieved that we won’t have to stress about their safety in an unfamiliar place.  I’m happy that we won’t disrupt their schedules to the point that sleep is elusive for weeks to come.  I’m so blessedly relieved not to have to deal with behavioral issues in front of family.  Traveling with little kids is a nightmare – traveling with special needs kids is beyond horrible.

I could write a nice little “Do This, Don’t Do That” list of things that will make your holiday easier.  I won’t: every kid is different and has different overexcitabilities and needs.  I will say this:

put your kids first in every situation. 

Don’t make them do stuff they can’t handle just because it’s expected.  Let them enjoy the holidays in ways that work for them.

If that means you eat peanut butter and jelly for Thanksgiving, go for it!  If that means the kids refuse to hug or kiss relatives, it’s ok.  If taking pictures with Santa is a horrible experience, skip it!  Kill the stress, chuck the materialism, and give your family the gift of time.

And give yourself the gift of less-stressful holidays.  You matter as much as the kids and family.  If we’re leading by example, then do what your kids need to see in order to learn.

For me, that’s “no” to shopping on black Friday (or Thanksgiving!)  It’s “no” to giving gifts to anyone but kids.  It’s “yes” to experiences, and not so much stuff.  It’s putting a limit on things so that we don’t go into debt for a holiday.  And it’s “yes” to spending time with my kids making memories and sharing love.



  1. Oh the times I’ve tried to force my kids into doing something “fun” or “meaningful” simply because it was a holiday tradition! I agree – simple is the way to go. We’ve been staying home on Christmas day for the past several years, just the 5 of us and occasionally my mom will come in the afternoon. PJ’s all day. Slow going opening presents and playing with them. Grazing on finger foods throughout the day. And every year I make a video slideshow thing that we all cuddle up and watch together. Our loveliest of holidays by far.


  2. I was so sorry to read about the car accident. It sounds like you handled things brilliantly; i hope there haven’t been any emotional repercussions.

    I love this post. (And my mind boggles at the thought of people even contemplating 20 hour car journeys with young kids! Perhaps it’s because I live on a tiny island.)

    A few years ago I started setting a phone on the table to video record my kids & I decorating our tree. The experience captures everyone’s personalities perfectly & is absolutely hilarious to look back on!


    • I love the recording idea! And yes, 20 hours is completely insane – but we do have a good reason to do it. Your island sounds lovely!


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