Holidays and Special Needs: Here’s some Help!

‘Tis the season of holly jolly parties and extended family visits. Calm? Not a chance! Bright? Absolutely! The gathering of friends and families are more likely to look like reindeer games than resting gentlemen. And, for families that have children with a disability, however mild or severe, there is more planning that goes into a fun, peaceful holiday season. Unfamiliar cousins, culturally diverse foods, and adapting to time zones can be a challenge, but with some simple advice from parents who have been there, it is possible to deck the halls without wanting to jump off the housetop. The following tips will help you too.

EDUCATE Inform relatives about the nature of your child’s disability before the trip. Consider the most important information you want to share, including possible safety concerns and how the disability may affect the tone of the visit. As a caregiver, you know how a change in routine or certain behaviors can act as triggers. Offer age appropriate information to other children, and explain what they can expect to see. Answer any questions and offer any support websites if your friends and family are open to it. It can be a low key conversation, with or without the child with the disability present. Speaking of presents, is it necessary to clear certain gifts ahead of time? While some people find it takes away from the spirit of the holiday, so can inappropriate gifts. While some things are obvious to the caregivers, they may not be to the Aunt who has never met your child before.

SCHEDULE If there are medications that need to be given on schedule, make it clear to the host ahead of time so they can be prepared. If your child benefits from routine, stick to it as much as possible. If your child is overactive, is there a pool, ice rink, or sledding hill nearby? If an overtired child is prone to becoming angry and easily agitated, stick to bedtime routines and times as much as possible. Because three time zones might be represented at the family get together, consider keeping “quiet hours” that benefit those who are late nighters and early birds. Then provide quiet activities, such as coloring books, crafts, or designated favorite videos only to be watched during these hours.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS There are some activities that a child with a disability may not be able to participate in. Always have an equally enticing option available for every child. For example, if the disability is physical and some children are going sledding, have a plan in place for your child as well. Perhaps take a trip to an aquarium or a movie, and recruit some family members to come along. If lack of rules will keep Johnny feeling insecure, choose games with specific instructions that everybody will enjoy. Kids won’t know what they couldn’t or didn’t get to do unless you make it a point to tell them. Maybe a favorite cousin or grandpa can think of something special to do with your child, like a trip to a favorite restaurant or store. One on one time might be just what your child needs.

FOOD If your child has a severe peanut allergy, make it clear there will be no chestnut roasting. It needs to be clear to the host prior to accepting the invitation, and offer to bring “safe” foods to share. Extensive visits get trickier, especially if some cousins are allowed to eat sugar plums for breakfast and candy canes for a snack. It is necessary to have this conversation prior to driving twelve hours for a visit so that everybody can agree on the menu. Again, offering to bring Gluten Free snacks is a great opportunity to be a hospitable guest.

Here are a few last minute tips that may help keep the holiday merry and bright:

Bring toys and videos you know are slam dunks. If your child gets anxious, familiar objects can bring comfort.

Ease up on rules if possible-it is vacation!

Don’t be afraid to say no if things get stressful. With so many different families expecting to create the perfect Christmas, you might have to be Scrooge. As hard as that may be, stick with the big picture. I see my parents the week after Christmas, and though it seemed strange to be away from my family first year, each of my siblings can make this time work, and we all stay for several days. With no pressure to get to other places, we relax and have a ball.

Finally, accept the help other people may offer. One of the best gifts you can give and get is accepting help from others. While it is easy to believe moms know best, you might be pleasantly surprised by your friends and family. This means you may have to give up control, hold your breath a little, and just see what happens. You just never know when a Christmas miracle may present itself.

Julia Garstecki

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