If you, or someone you love, has ADHD, you know that this neurological difference presents daily challenges. This challenge may be exacerbated with other conditions that may co-exist with ADHD, such as mood and anxiety disorders. Here are some tips for accommodating the special need of ADHD during the holidays.
Understanding the Impact of ADHD on People During the Holidays
Even brilliant people with ADHD may have trouble maintaining attention to everyday tasks, organizing their homes and work spaces, managing finances, handling impulsivity, arriving on time for appointments, and remembering things. They may also have social challenges, such as interrupting too frequently, and sensory sensitivities (such as being more sensitive than is typical to noise or fabrics). They may also have trouble sleeping and may fatigue easily.
Imagine how the holidays can affect someone with ADHD. There are tons of details to remember, and all kinds of schedule disruptions and special events to attend. Budgeting, shopping for, wrapping, and hiding gifts can be enormously challenging for someone who is impulsive, highly distractible, and who tends to forget details (such as where the car is parked). There are twinkly lights and decorations everywhere, which can be highly distracting. And let’s not even talk about the sheets of burned cookies! 🙂
While everyone has these symptoms at some point, especially during the hectic holidays or other stressful times, people with ADHD have these symptoms for 6 months or longer, in some cases, for their entire lives. The severity of the symptoms is another diagnostic criteria. You can be forgetful and not have ADHD. But if you have several of these symptoms to a chronic degree, and they interfere with daily living activities, such as keeping a job or maintaining relationships, then you may have ADHD. A neurologist can tell you more. These “survival tips” may be useful for you, even if you don’t have ADHD.
Practical Tips for Surviving the Holidays
How can you help your friend or relative with ADHD enjoy the season without disaster? It’s important to remain positive and remind your friend, child, or relative about how successfully they have handled situations in the past, and that neurotypical people often struggle with similar challenges.
These tips may help, as well as help anyone else you may know who is undergoing any kind of stress during the holidays.
Even during vacation periods, try to maintain schedules. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help manage restful sleep and emotional equilibrium. Stick to the same rules, and make sure they are clearly understood.
Get plenty of exercise.
Make sure they are listening to you. The best way is to be close to someone with ADHD and ask them if they can pay attention for a moment. Connect first, then tell them. You might have to say it again, but you will have better luck getting them to focus on you if you tell them you have something to say before you say it.
Write it down. Is it important that they be somewhere? Don’t just tell them and expect them to remember. Make sure they write it down in their planner, or on their digital calendar, and watch them do it! Send email and text reminders. If necessary, write it down for them, e.g. a post-it note on their bathroom mirror or front door.
Fudge on the time. If you need them to be there at 8:30 a.m., tell them they have to be there at 8:00 a.m. Trust me, you should never tell a person with ADHD the actual starting time of a movie, play, or airplane departure because they will almost always be late for everything. You don’t like it and they don’t like it, but it is a fact of life for people with ADHD. Always give them about a half-hour cushion, at least, if it’s important.
Break down the tasks for them. People with ADHD often operate well with lists, calendars, schedules, and other forms of structure. Help them break down a task, by talking through the steps together, whether it’s shopping for toys or making cookies.
Don’t let them take on too much and set reasonable expectations. People with ADHD often over-estimate their ability to handle a multitude of tasks, and take on too much, not finishing much of anything. If you simplify your expectations for the holidays, and help them focus on just a few tasks at a time, and celebrate the milestones and completion. For example, agree in advance that the adults will get just one present. It is fine to use Christmas bags and tissue instead of wrapping presents with bows. You can decorate a tree with lights, tinsel, and just a few decorations. You can still enjoy a family Christmas dinner with a turkey breast and instant mashed potatoes and a store-bought pumpkin pie!
Stash back-ups. For example, an keep umbrella or extra pair of glasses in the car. Stow extra hats and gloves in the car trunk, as well as the closet. Then when your ADHD relative forgets or loses an important item, they won’t be cold!
Help them relax. What relaxes people can be different, but in general, slow down and don’t try to do too much. Take plenty of breaks, and stay hydrated. Relax together at a a coffee shop and regroup. Hand fidgets can be helpful: they help you relax and focus.
Alert them when they need it. Are they spacing out? Sometimes gum helps, or ice cold water or lemonade, a quick walk, or a little chocolate or caffeine. If they’re really tired, however, just call it a day.
Get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Studies show that people with ADHD become more high-functioning when they see green outside — so take a stroll around the Christmas tree lot or outdoor garden center. Take brisk winter walks.
Let someone else do it, at least during the holidays. Take the linens and towels to a laundry and let them wash and fold them for you or your ADHD relative.
ADHD Friendly Presents
- A month-at-a-glance calendar with blocks big enough to write in plenty of notes and appointments. If the calendar or planner is for a woman, make sure it will fit in her purse.
- A mini-recorder (maybe for a keychain) so the person can record where he parked the car.
- A fun fidget for their purse, backpack or keychain: check out Tangle.
- A GPS system to keep them from getting lost in the car.
- Watches with easy-to-read faces are a good gift. You can’t have too many watches.
- A digital camera for recording events. People with ADHD tend to be visual learners.
- Those lavender scented heavy pads for shoulders.
- Timers to remind them to take the cookies out of the oven, or to take a break.
- A relaxing music CD, such as classical music or instrumental jazz.
- ADHD self-help books.
- Nice pens and notepads for making lists. Post-it notes.
- Bubbles are relaxing for children, because it requires slow breathing.
- A tiny zen rock garden.
- An artificial plant (you don’t have to remember to water them).
- Key organizer (to mount by the front door)
- Desk organizers
- Closet organizers
- Cosmetic bags and jewelry organizers
- Ornaments organizers
- Checkbook organizer and budgeting tools.
- Write on/wipe off calendars and white boards
- First aid kits, car emergency kits