The holidays are nothing but joy, fun, and relaxation, right? If you answered yes then you can stop reading now (and please share your secrets!). If not, then you are one of the millions of people, especially parents, who look forward to days off work and spending time with the family, but who also know that holiday get-togethers come with a lot of stress! This is true most of all for families with children with special needs.

Noise! Food that the kids are not used to or, worse, that the kids love but are not allowed to have! Well-meaning relatives who want to hug and pinch and tickle! Visiting homes that don't have crash pads and swings and safety gates! Well get out your toolbox and get the hammer out of the way (well...on second, no, take it out!), because following are some tools that I hope will help make those upcoming holiday get-togethers a little easier to get through.

Storyboards: Many of us are already familiar with this instrument especially if we have children with Autism in our lives. But its worth repeating, since a storyboard can be an extremely powerful tool to help prepare kids for what's to come. A storyboard simply means displaying with pictures/visual aids a timeline of what is going to happen. So it might include drawings (stick figures are allowed) of some of the following components: Packing a suitcase, loading up the car, driving down the highway, going into Grandma's house, greeting family members, sitting down to eat a meal, saying goodbye, going home. If you can start talking about it several days ahead of time, it will allow time for concerns to be voiced and for potential problems to show themselves early enough to plan for. Bring it with you and talk throughout the day or weekend about where you are now and what's next.

Toys and Games: We all know that having plenty of toys and games can accomplish the most prized phenomenon of holiday survival: distraction! But with some thought and planning, the toys and games you choose can each have its own important impact on your child's comfort level. Play-doh, for example, can provide a calming type of sensory input to help keep anxieties under control. Here's a great resource for homemade play-doh if you need to steer clear of the dyes and other stuff in the store-bought varieties.

Another idea is a weighted medicine ball. The cumbersome weight of it provides an organizing sensory experience, and also makes it harder to throw at Grandma's cat. They're great at rest stops along a road trip or for kicking or rolling across a carpeted room. Need more toy/game ideas for surviving get-togethers or for holiday gifts? Check out our special offergoing on now!

Don't rely on distraction 100% - Get the kids involved as much as possible: Whether you're hosting the gathering at your house or going to a family member's home, resist the urge to make all the preparations while the kids are napping or with a sitter. Whether on the day of the gathering or in the days ahead, getting them involved in planning a menu, packing, cooking, shopping, or setting the table naturally leads to conversations about what is to come. Its also a good way to get them invested in the success of the day: "Look Grandma, I stirred the pumpkin pie and helped mash the potatoes!"

When it's all said and done, you'll probably still find yourself thinking, "I'm glad that's over!" It is my hope that with these strategies, you'll also be able to say "But it went better than I thought it would!"