For many parents of children with disabilities, the holiday season can add an extra layer of stress to an already frantic time. Here are some tips to help you get through the holiday season this year with less stress and more time to enjoy this special time of year.
1. Plan ahead.
Assess your child’s needs and any challenges he or she may have, and take measures now to help him or her through holiday outings. Preparing allergy-free foods ahead of time is a good strategy for our family. We also make sure our children know where they are going, who will be there – including pets – and what the event will be like. I’m a firm believer that even if they can’t respond, they may still understand. Be sure to take anything he or she may need – sensory toys, transitional objects, iPad or communication tools, spare clothes, allergy treatments, if they eat restricted foods – to help ensure the entire event goes smoothly.
2. Don’t be afraid to leave early or cancel plans.
Your child may only be able to stay for a brief period of time at a holiday event. Or, he or she may have had a really bad morning on the day of the event. Inform your host in advance that you may need to leave early, if your child becomes distressed or uncomfortable. And, while a last- minute cancellation or leaving a party early may seem impolite, keep in mind that the most important thing is that your child feels comfortable in an environment. If you must cancel, be courteous and personally call the host to apologize for missing the event. But, there is no need to apologize for your child’s disability. Be sure to send a thank you note for the invitation and a “regrets” gift is always a thoughtful gesture as well.
3. Research events designed for children with disabilities.
Every year, more events are available that cater to kids with sensory issues, autism or other disabilities. Take the time to seek these out for your child. Even if he has to miss most of the other parties available to children, he can still celebrate the holiday in an atmosphere that is comfortable and soothing for him. For example, many towns run “Sensory-Friendly Santa” events. Call your local disability resource to find out what events are taking place in your neighborhood.
4. Inform your friends and relatives of your child’s needs.
Many people still don’t understand the nuances of silent disabilities like autism, sensory processing disorder or ADHD. But, you can be an advocate for your child and help others understand. This Halloween, Talk About Curing Autism NOW published badges that a child could wear on her costume for trick-or-treating describing why she could not talk. Your child doesn’t need a badge, but he or she needs you to speak up for them. Explain to loved ones your child’s difficulties, what they can do to help and what makes your child nervous or scared. Letting them know that a hug from a stranger may be frightening for your child will go a long way to preventing a stressful situation when you arrive.
5. Plan a quiet event just for your family.
Whether or not you go to any events outside your home, if the holiday is important to you, make it a happy memory for your child with a quiet, home-based gathering. A simple dinner of her favorite foods, decorations, a holiday story and a fun craft project is all you need. Create your own traditions, so your child and family can look back on the holidays as a pleasant time.
With a little pre-planning, you can create wonderful family memories and help your child enjoy a happy holiday season.