“My heart just hurt for him last year when you wouldn’t meet us at Red Lobster for his big 75th birthday.” That was from my stepmother.
A few weeks ago, my dad turned 76. We did the very Pennsylvania thing and went to Shady Maple for his birthday. But, of course my stepmother and I had an altercation over it. She can never just let things be–like if I ask my dad to meet for a meal, she can’t just say yes and go. She has to say something either obnoxious or passive-aggressive and this was no different.
First of all, all crappy food aside, I have nothing against Dead Lobster. Except for the fact that every time we go, we have to wait 2 hours for a meal, and I have to entertain an autistic kid with epilepsy for 2 hours in a crowded restaurant lobby?
Sometimes, my family just cannot do things that other families do. Waiting for 2 hours for a meal is one of them.
Holidays are another. They just look different for us, and I’m ok with that. Just not everyone else is.
Here are some tips for staying sane in the coming months, and communication tips so that others can better understand what you’re dealing with.
So what did I do about my stepmother? I’ll tell you at the end.
tips for assisting your special needs child at school during the holidays
- Communication is key! Communicate with your child’s teacher, read the school website–find out what changes are going to happen as best as you can. Prepare your child for these changes–different meals, assemblies, early dismissals, whatever it may be.
- Ask your teacher to have a “one sheet” included in her sub folder about your child. This should include the necessary information that a sub would need to know about your child and what may cause them anxiety.
- Have daily briefings at breakfast and dinner. It sounds formal, but it doesn’t have to be. Just talk about what is going to happen that day or what did happen that day. What will be different?
- Contact his therapists or whoever works with your child and ask if they can do more role playing, scripting and/or social stories related to holiday festivities.
tips for assisting your special needs child at home during the holidays
- If you haven’t sent out holiday cards in a while (not many people do it anymore!), consider sending them to the people you will come into contact with, might be visiting or might be staying with this holiday season. This is an easy and private way to share your child’s “quirks” and expectations.
- Talk with your child. Find out what their expectations are and make sure everyone is on the same page. Prepare them as best you can. Again, consider the morning and evening daily briefings.
- Pick your battles. For me, I’m not going to make food the issue. I will bring what is necessary so that kids get nutrition in them, and decent nutrition–not filling up on cookies and candy. This is not the time, in my opinion, to force a child with extreme food issues to eat the 9 Fishes dinner. Am I right? And to be honest, I hate uncomfortable clothing so why would I expect a sensory kid to put on a suit and tie willingly? Pick your battles and let your hosts/hostesses know via Christmas card what to expect.
- When visiting, bring things that are a comfort to your child, especially if staying overnight. A favorite blanket, pillow, and their own shampoo will go a long way in soothing a child that is not sleeping in their own bed.
- Don’t force affection. Another item you can explain in a holiday card–if your child does not want to embrace and kiss relatives they barely know, or do not enjoy being hugged, respect that. Explain to the relatives that your child really does care about them, but that this is not how they show it.
- Have an escape signal or word. Give your child an “out” if it is more than they can handle.
- Go visual. Have a color coded calendar or some other method of visually outlining what your family is doing. Consider doing it with velcro so that items can be moved and removed if you need to alter your schedules. That way it’s not “etched in stone” for the rigid thinkers.
- Sensory friendly events and Quiet Santas are very common around the holidays. These are a great opportunity to participate and be able to relax a little bit and let your hair down, be among “our people.” People who “get it.”
- Set your child up for success. Pre-arrange conversations with relatives so that your child is included. A simple “I heard that you really enjoyed your school field trip to the museum” might be much more engaging for your child instead of “what’s your favorite subject at school?” but a relative may not know that.
taking care of YOU-the special needs parent-this holiday season
- Remember that holidays and holiday breaks are intended to be relaxing time and a “reset” so that you can go back to work/school rested and refreshed. Keep that in mind as you do your holiday schedule.
- Say no. You don’t have to do everything.
- I like to sometimes take these opportunities to educate family and friends about our issues. But, keep your child in mind–do not talk about them in front of them and so on.
Above all else, the best advice is to know yourself and know your family. Moms have great instincts and now is not the time to ignore them. We know what our kids can handle and what will make an enjoyable holiday season for everyone.
My stepmother? I just sent her two snarky text messages. It’s how we communicate in our dysfunctional family. I reminded her that for the better part of the past 2 years, we’ve barely left the house due to Kevin’s seizures.
When it comes to my family, I live by Oprah’s words: “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to have peace?” I choose peace.
Special thanks to Amanda Morin from Understood for contributing to this article. We spoke at length about how parents could better support their kids throughout the holiday season. I have done similar posts about this in the past, but she gave me some excellent tips to share with you that I hadn’t thought of! Even though our focus as parents and advocates was to assist families that have children with special needs, I think that this is great advice for any family. The ideas here can be used for a multitude of issues-autism, ADHD, learning and attention issues, sensory and anything else that affects your family’s endurance, tolerance and ability to transition. I only hope that I can remember everything she said and decipher all my notes from our chat. For more advice for the holiday season, you can visit the Holidays~Special Needs Style section here on this blog.
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