Enjoying the Holidays with Your Special Needs Child
Somebody, somewhere has a magical scene every Christmas morning where the children creep down the stairs sleepy-eyed waiting to see what goodies Santa has left under the tree. That's never happened at my house, though. Even if we had stairs, which we don't, my oldest has cerebral palsy and vision issues and has never walked a day in his life. He's also pretty lukewarm on new experiences and gets overwhelmed in a crowd. It would be understandable if I let this put a damper on the holiday spirit, but I haven't let it. There are plenty of ways you can enjoy the holidays with your special needs child--even if it doesn't look exactly like the holidays on TV. Here are just a few: Create a Safe Space. This is good advice for anyone parenting small people, but it's especially good for kiddos who can get overwhelmed by a lot of sensory input. The holidays can be a total overload for kids who are extra-sensitive. A great way to combat that is to pick a room--a guest bedroom works great if there's one available--and set that up as a retreat for your special needs child. You can keep them in there and let people come and visit them if they're really anxious, or you can just bring them in there when Uncle Bill starts yelling about what's wrong with today's youth (purely hypothetical, of course). Modify Your Expectations. If your child can't use his hands very well, it's best not to expect them to rip off wrapping paper. You might try bags with tissue. If they're easily frustrated, take off the packaging and make sure it has batteries before you give it to them. If your child does terribly when taken off of their schedule, don't force the issue--eat meals at the regular times and make it home for bed time. Do what you can to make the day enjoyable for your child, and worry less about what you think the holiday "should" be like. Include the familiar. It's possible for a holiday to include new clothes, new foods, unfamiliar faces, unusual music, strange decorations, and more. If your child is easily overloaded, they may shut down. If one of their senses is limited, they might be frightened or uneasy with so many new things at once. Get them prepared before the big day by talking about it or reading stories. Try to work some familiar things into the day: you might try playing a favorite song or serving a favorite dish. I have a friend who wrapped her daughter's favorite books to put under the tree. Her daughter has Autism and was pleased as could be when she saw those goodies amidst the Christmas craziness. Maybe a typical child can handle all of the new and strange things that go along with the holidays, but not all children can and that's OK too. I've had some wonderful Christmases with my special needs child and I think everyone can, but this is real life and not a sitcom from the 50's. Make the day about what works for your family and you'll find the season less stressful.
Katy Monnot is a mom of four including a five-year-old with cerebral palsy. She blogs regularly about her amazing family on her personal blog, Bird on the Street.