Preparing for the holidays with special needs children

The holiday can be an over-whelming time for many people.  Those of us, who have special needs children, find that our children can react to this busy time of year and get stressed as much as we do.

As a Mom to a special needs child, I understand that the needs of each child are different and each child responds differently to particular situations.

We want everyone to enjoy their time with family and friends this year and every year.

There are many ideas we can try, to help get everyone through this holiday season.  Please remember, each child is different.  What works for one, may not work for another.  Keep trying different ones to find which of them work best for you and your family.

As the holidays are approaching, try scheduling activities with some distance between them.  Being on the go constantly can result in ‘sensory overload’.  You know how much sleep your child needs at night, to get through the day and to not tire too early before festivities begin.

Let family and friends know ahead if there are any special things or accommodations needed before arriving.  If your child needs a place to retreat to so they can calm down and gather themselves together before continuing on with the event, let them know.  If there is a particular diet for your child or extra things are needed for them to enjoy the meal with everyone, be prepared.  Remember any and all medications needed for the time away from home as well.  Don’t assume the host’s will have all you need, communicate prior and figure out what you will need to bring/supply for your child.

Talk to your child about what’s coming up and what the day/evening will involve.  Help prepare them with what to expect.  Let them know who’s going to be there; particularly if there is/are favourite guest(s) attending.  Assure them that if they get tired and want to go home, it’s ok.  Remind your child about these events in the weeks leading up to it, so they can prepare themselves mentally as well.  Perhaps having a ‘countdown calendar’ would be an idea that may work for your child.  Putting a sticker on each day at the end of the day as it passes.

If your child likes to help pick out clothes to wear each day, the day before, involve your child in what they’d like to wear to the event.  Try not to make too much of an issue if they don’t want to wear what you want them to.  What they’re wearing is not as important as spending time with family and friends.  Your family and friends should hopefully understand and will surely be happy that you are there whatever the dress.

Talk to your child about what’s expected of them as well.  Using manners, whether it may be a gesture, picture card, sign language, a hand held sign with Thank you on it…whatever will work for your child.

If you can only stay for a short period of time, let your family/friends know.  Perhaps they can arrange or schedule the main ‘event’s’ while you’re there.  Do not feel bad for having to leave early.  You know yours and your child’s limits.  It’s better to be there a short time and it be a wonderful time, than to stay longer and have to deal with a tired, over-stimulated child.  We want this time to be fun and happy for everyone!

Keep an eye on your child.  Watch how their doing and how they’re reacting to the event.  This way, you can keep on top of any possible issues and can be on top of any problem that you may see brewing.  Bring some familiar things from home for the child to play with and/or hold for comfort and assurance.

Arrange a time and/or signal for your departure.  Even if it means missing some of the festivities, leaving while everyone is happy, is good.  If you feel things are going well, and feel comfortable extending your visit by a little, then go for it.

If you are the one hosting the event at your house, designate an area/room that is off limits to others, so you have a quiet place for your child to go if a break is needed.  Having an extra pair of hands available, someone who you and your child are comfortable with to help out is a great idea as well.

If you’re able to have that extra help, just remember to stay calm, whatever situation may arise.  Knowing and seeing that you are calm will help your child, as well as family/friends who may be unsure of what’s happening.  Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it, after all what is family for J

Be prepared to be tired!  Don’t over-plan things, worry and rush around.  Plan your time, get organized, things will go much smoother than you probably think they will.  Each of you; your child, your spouse, yourself and your other children will be quite tired.  Make sure the next day is a ‘down’ day, or a slow day, so everyone can take it easy and let the memories of the previous day’s events sink in and be enjoyed.

Take some time the following day to look back and see how things went.  Were there any changes that you think should be made?  If things didn’t go too well, or there were a couple situations, think about how you could change it or prepare for it, to make it better for everyone next time.

This seems like so much information and so much to think about, but most of us already know as parents, a lot of this becomes almost second nature in time.  This seems like a lot of work, but you’ll be a pro in no time and have every event become a wonderful memory for you all.

If you have any comments, other ideas that work for you and may work for others, please share them with us.  We would love to hear them.

Merry Christmas!

Renée MacLachlan


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