Helping Children with Special Needs Enjoy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful holiday for kids to celebrate in the classroom or at home. But some children with special needs, such as those with ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, or other learning and social limitations, may find Valentine’s Day to be more overwhelming or frustrating than enjoyable. Kids who struggle with interpersonal connections may find the idea of filling out cards, celebrating in large groups, or having to interact closely with kids at school to be quite daunting. Others who struggle with socializing might feel left out if they don’t think they will be getting valentines cards from classmates. Still other kids with general learning disabilities might just find the task of creating and writing on notes for friends to be a gruelling one. There are several resources for helping those children enjoy Valentine’s Day in school or at home, such as Edutopia, “A Day in Our Shoes (IEP Resources and More),” and Understood (for Learning and Attention Issues). We have compiled some of their most helpful tips here: Discuss Valentine’s Day with teachers and administrators: Be upfront with your child’s school faculty about any pain or hurt your child has experienced in the past during Valentine’s Day celebrations and why this happened. Asked teachers how they have previously approached Valentine’s Day celebrations for students with whatever special need your child has. Make sure that your child’s classroom is enforcing an all-inclusive policy, where each child receives a valentine from every other child, and vice versa (these are almost always implemented). Finally, participate yourself as much as possible in helping to prepare valentines for each student and give your child an understanding of what will happen during their school celebrations. Ask your child’s teacher for a list of names ahead of time: Your child’s teacher will likely hand out a list of names to students to aid them in making their valentines cards. Children with learning disabilities or social limitations may take a long time to fill out each valentine, whether because they find all of that writing frustrating, they struggle with making decisions about who gets which valentine, they struggle with following directions, or some other limitation makes this task especially difficult. It may be helpful for parents to prepare in advance by getting this list early. Turn child’s name into a sticker or stamp: To help those children who struggle with writing out their names on class valentines over and over, parents may find it helpful to create a sticker or a stamp with the child’s name that can be easily placed on the cards. Use one template so the cards are all the same: A helpful way for parents to eliminate excessive decision-making where this is a difficulty is to just print out or purchase a large number of the same exact card for the kids in his or her class. This is a common offering and will also often allow for extras where the child may have had difficulty filling them out and needed to try again. Don’t address valentines: Though some children with learning or social limitations may enjoy addressing valentines to other students (because every child is different), some may dread more writing and a longer task. Furthermore, some children may have trouble reading the names when handing them out on Valentine’s Day. An easy way to overcome these struggles is to just leave them blank (since the cards will likely all be the same anyway). Use Social Stories to prepare for Valentine’s Day: Social stories are great visuals for children with special needs because they explain what will happen using words and pictures. For some free printable Valentine’s Day social stories click here. Consider your child’s specific social needs: Think about how your child’s social needs will manifest themselves on Valentine’s Day and prepare the task of handing out valentines in a way that will most benefit them. For example, if your child desires eye-contact with others and communication with the children in his or her class, they will likely wish to hand the cards directly to each child. If that is something your child would not enjoy doing, your child may be permitted to just place them in different bags. This is something that you can communicate about with your child’s teacher as well. Celebrate at home: Sometimes school celebrations can be overwhelming and unenjoyable for children no matter how inclusive they are. It’s important for parents to celebrate with their kids outside of school so that the child doesn’t just dread the day every year. A little gift or a special note can be enough. Parenting Squad and Daily Mom offer some great tips for celebrating at home and making it a home-based holiday too.