“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Or so the classic holiday song goes… While it’s true that the holiday season evokes traditions that many of us hold dear — opportunities for special times with family and friends, great food, parties and festive decorations — it can also bring added stress, particularly for families of children with special needs. As we enter the holiday season, here are some tips for keeping stress to a minimum and joy to a maximum.
1. Make entertaining a team effort
If you love hosting holiday parties, go for it. But don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that means hiring someone to serve and clean up, throwing a potluck rather than cooking for days, using paper plates, or even catering the meal, do whatever you need to do to manage your workload so you can enjoy your party.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no
Just because you receive an invitation, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. If you know your child needs a good night sleep, or is likely to be uncomfortable at a given holiday event, there’s no rule that says you can’t bow out gracefully. “People who care about you will not be offended if you decline an invitation,” say the folks at the Friendship Circle. Simply explain that it will not work for your special family. Figure out which events and activities are must-dos and let go of the rest. Maybe opt for a quiet night at home instead.”
3. Prep your child
Most children benefit from being prepared for new situations. Children with special needs, particularly those on the autism spectrum, may need extra preparation to feel comfortable. One way to prepare children with autism is by “creating a visual story (a series of pictures or drawings)” suggest the folks at Autism Speaks. They also recommend tasting holiday foods beforehand, practicing social behaviors such as shaking hands, taking turns when opening gifts, and rehearsing how to behave if you receive a gift that you don’t like.
4. Prep your guests or hosts
If you’re visiting friends or family who aren’t familiar with your child, you may want to prepare them for what to expect. For example, “Help them to understand if the person with autism prefers to be hugged or not, needs calm discussions or provide other suggestions that will facilitate a smoother holiday season,” says the Autism Society. “If the individual becomes upset, it might also be helpful to coach others to remain calm and neutral to minimize behavioral outbursts.” Likewise, guests and hosts may appreciate your help when it comes to choosing appropriate gifts for your child.
5. Allow your child quiet time if necessary
If your child becomes overstimulated at a social function, help him to find a quiet spot where he can decompress. For example, if you are having visitors, have a space set aside for the child as his/her safe/calm space,” says the Autism Society. “The individual should be taught ahead of time that they should go to their space when feeling overwhelmed.”
6. Consider bringing a babysitter
If your child with special needs requires a great deal of one-on-one attention and supervision, consider bringing a babysitter who can focus on your child while you and her siblings take part in holiday activities.
7. Bring your own stuff
Feel free to bring your child’s favorite foods, toys, books or DVDs along to parties or family gatherings. Encourage him to socialize and participate in party activities to the extent he is able, but once he’s reached his limit, let him chill out in front of a favorite DVD while you and the rest of the family parties on. Giving your child the freedom to be him or herself, will make it possible for everyone to have a more relaxed and enjoyable time.
8. Buy gifts online
Managing the mall can be a challenge at any time of year. During the holiday shopping season, it can be truly overwhelming, especially for children with special needs. Writing for The Mighty, Courtney Barnum recommends doing all your holiday shopping online. “The crowds, the noises, the lights, the smells, it’s a lot. Grocery shopping can be hard enough, but Christmas shopping is sometimes super tough,” says Barnum. “So, don’t feel guilty. If you can get it online, do it.” P.S. Don’t forget to shop Enabling Devices.com to find gifts for the special children in your life.
9. Treat yourself
As always, take care not to neglect your own needs. Buy yourself a gift, enjoy an adult’s night out, take a hot bath and perhaps most importantly, let go of perfectionism. Says Barnum of The Mighty: “The holidays are never perfect. We’re not living in a Norman Rockwell painting. All you should strive for is a peaceful and happy holiday.”