Do you need to rethink the holidays for your special needs family?
Eighteen people from four states. Food allergies. Picky eaters. Spirited discussions. Multiple football games on multiple screens. Your autistic child’s routine turned upside down. If the upcoming holiday season has you dreading what is supposed to be a celebratory time, then it’s time for you to rethink the holidays for your special needs family.
Rethink the Crowds
Whether a crowd means five or fifteen for your loved one, you need to have an escape plan. If you are hosting, designate an area of your house and/or yard that is “off limits” for the guests. This will allow your special needs loved one to have some down-time, away from the party or celebration.
Rethink the Gifts
Well-meaning family members may struggle with gift ideas for a kid who can’t clearly articulate what they want for lunch, much less what they want an invisible man in a red suit to bring in the middle of the night a month from now. Check out my special needs gift guide – coming soon. (Need something to thank the team of service providers who support your kid? I have that coming soon, too.)
Rethink the Meals
Think about the timing. Often larger groups sit down to holiday meals at “off-times,” like 3 pm. If this is the case for your celebration, then plan accordingly. Either have a later breakfast, or provide a snack to tide your child over. Or give them a full lunch, and then allow for “grazing” at the large meal, which might be a more practical solution anyway.
Also, be cognizant of the food being served. If you are hosting, you can obviously be in control of what’s on the table, and include a crudités platter, bread or rolls, whole olives or whatever else your child will need to make a meal. If you are a guest, then plan to contribute an item that you know your kid will eat – for years this was this no-boil mac and cheese recipe. Now that we’ve moved away from dairy for Mr. Diggy, I usually plan to bring some Tartine bread, or veggies and dip.
Rethink the Overnight Guests
If you will be the guests, then think critically about what environment will work best for you and your loved one. Here are some things to consider. If you are hosting overnight guests, then make sure that your child’s routine is disrupted as little as possible. In our house, this means filling up other rooms with giant air mattresses to avoid anyone having to share a room with Mr. Diggy.
Rethink the Family Traditions
Think about how you can incorporate your child into family traditions. We often decorate a gingerbread house, and then allow Mr. Diggy free reign as soon as we have snapped a quick photo. We hang stockings for weeks in advance, and then fill his with fistfuls of shredded colorful paper – a messy, but fulfilling gift for him (see gifts, above).
The tree is an area of great challenge for us. It is beyond tempting with its twinkling lights, string-like garland, and dozens of shiny objects. Though I grew up with a real tree, it has become more practical to use an artificial one. We pull it out on the 24th, and fill it with non-breakable ornaments, most of which we have made by hand over the year. The morning of the 26th, it is down – one less inanimate object in the house to worry about.
Rethink the Photos and Memories
This might be the hardest part, but also the most significant. If you are able to manage a special needs photo session near the holiday, then it is worth it. Either way, you will still want to capture the moments you can during the actual celebrations.