It’s back! America’s holiday season—a time for family, feasting, parties, shopping, gift-giving and a break from regular routines such as work, school, and extra-curricular activities. While most of us look forward to the holiday season, there’s no question that it can be stressful. Holiday stress may be compounded for families with children with disabilities. Yet, with some careful planning, you can minimize the stress and maximize the joy of the holiday season. Here are some of the best strategies:
1. Pace yourself
Holiday season is chock full of parties, family events, school concerts, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza and New Year’s get-togethers. While you may feel pressure to participate in all of them, resist the urge to do too much. All children, but especially those who are young or have special needs may become easily overwhelmed, over-tired and over-stimulated by large crowds of people, loud noise and blinking lights associated with holiday season, so choose family activities carefully, and approach the activities you do select planfully.
2. Have an escape route
Be prepared in case a family outing doesn’t pan out as you had planned. One Friendship Circle blogger who is the parent of a special needs child says that she and her husband bring two cars when they go places with their kids so “one of us can leave if our child with special needs is acting up. This way our other children can remain (if they wish), and our child with special needs can go home where he feels more comfortable.”
Likewise, when attending a party or special event, scope out a quiet place where you can take your child if she becomes over-stimulated or upset and needs to decompress.
3. Prep relatives and friends for their visit with your child
Friends and family members who don’t know your child well or haven’t seen him for a while may benefit from a briefing about your child’s special interests, food and gift preferences, sensory sensitivities, etc. After all, giving old Aunt Gertie the heads up that her great nephew dislikes hugs and strong perfume can go a long way toward a successful visit!
4. Prep your child for holiday activities and social occasions
Before you take your child to a party, performance or other event, spend some time preparing her for what she can expect there. For example, the folks at Living Well With a Disability recommend parents “introduce” their children to invited guests before gatherings. “Show your child pictures of relatives and friends before the party starts. Remind children if they have met the guests before and explain their relationship.” Living Well also suggests role-playing social behaviors prior to social events. “Practice how to receive a gift, how to thank the giver and how to greet guests at the door.”
5. Bring a “care package”
Don’t hesitate to bring your child’s favorite foods, toys, books or DVDs along to parties or family gatherings. If she’s had enough socializing but you’re not ready to leave, encourage her to do her thing, while you and the rest of the family enjoy the company and activities at the event. That way, everyone can enjoy himself or herself.
6. Seek holiday events designed for children with special needs
As awareness of sensory processing disorders has increased, many entertainment venues, museums and stores now offer performances and activities adapted for children with sensory sensitivities. For instance, Autism Speaks has partnered with Noerr Programs Corporation to offer “Sensory Friendly Santa” programs across the country. The autism society has partnered with AMC movie theaters to offer sensory-friendly films four times a month at its theaters across the country, and the Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative offers sensory friendly Broadway shows. Don’t live in New York City? No problem! Nowadays, you can find sensory-friendly performances nearby, no matter where you live.
7. Shop online
For those of us who detest crowds, long lines and traffic jams, online shopping is a holiday blessing. No need to drag your special needs child to the mall anymore. No need to waste time in stores looking for toys adapted for children with physical disabilities or those for children with sensory processing disorders either. This season, shop Enabling Devices.com to find gifts for the special children in your life.
8. Give yourself a break
Self-care is crucially important, especially during the busy holiday season. So don’t skimp on babysitters, and take friends and family members up on their offers to chip in with carpooling, shopping and errands. Happy holidays!