Tis the Season!
No matter what you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) the end of the year is usually a time full of family, friends, celebrations, and arrangements for the new year to come. Just like at Halloween, this time can be loud, overstimulating and overwhelming for some. But adapting and accommodating doesn’t mean you and your family can’t have fun on the holidays, it just takes a little bit of planning and preparation. As do all good things.
When visiting relatives or going to unfamiliar places, it’s important to remember that, unfortunately, not every place is equipped to handle the unique needs of all individuals. Before going to your family gathering, make sure that it is accessible to your child. For instance, if your child is in a wheelchair and the house you’re heading to isn’t wheelchair accessible or is full of tight hallways and sharp corners, ask yourself if it’s worth the potential problems or if your family should come up with other plans. Assistive technologies can be purchased or rented, like this company in New York state that rents medical equipment.
Stay on Schedule
For some kids, breaks from school mean later nights. But for many children, maintaining schedules are crucial. Even though you might be tempted to let your child stay up well past their bedtime, try to keep to their normal schedules as closely as possible. Knowing the transitions and what is happening next will help your little one feel less anxiety.
Most people try to be accommodating and will do their best to be understanding but you can avoid any potential hassles by bringing your own food to ensure your child is eating something familiar and safe. While this might be extra work, it may help to provide less stress in the long run when everyone is enjoying dinner together.
Sometimes limits can be reached much sooner than anticipated and you and your family may need an “out” to leave if there’s a breakdown or tantrum coming on. Have an exit plan or a code word where your family can let each other know when that limit is being reached. Before going to a relative’s house, it might be a good idea to inquire about a quiet room that your child can retreat to if they need their own space or an area to escape to. Giving them this control over potentially overstimulating activities can help to reduce anxiety. Always have a plan of action and make sure that every one of your family members is on the same page. This can mean a few minutes of quiet time in the car listening to their favorite music, going to the quiet space to play on the iPad for a while or leaving if necessary. You and your partner can bring separate cars if more members of your family want to stay longer than others are willing or able to.
Talk to Your relatives
If relatives don’t understand the specific needs of your child or their disability, try to talk to them beforehand to explain some behaviors your children may exhibit. Let your relatives know what topics are appropriate or inappropriate to talk about. If you are one to send out holiday cards to family- especially those you may be visiting or staying with over the holidays- consider also sending them a personal letter privately sharing your child’s “quirks” and setting expectations.
Don’t be afraid to say “no”
Say no openly and often, whenever you need to. You aren’t obligated to do anything because it’s the holidays and you should feel comfortable turning down events, or gatherings if you feel that it will be too much for your family. This is supposed to be a relaxing time for you and your family, too, so if that means staying home and creating new traditions that work for your family, that’s OK! Just because something is meaningful or works for one family doesn’t mean that it will work for yours. Set aside time to see family members or those you love at a quieter time when there isn’t so much stimulation and your child will be better set up for a fun night.
And if you’re looking for some holiday traditions you can start on your own, here are a few sensory play ideas to do with your little one. Note: most ideas are “Christmas” themed but can be adapted to any holiday you celebrate or just make up your own theme!