Do you break out into a sweat just thinking about the upcoming Holidays with your special needs child? Do you cringe at the thought of awkward moments you are sure to have? How will others react or respond? Will we be able to have an enjoyable and meaningful time? These are some of the thoughts I have and you may have them too. Handling A Holiday with a child with special needs has it’s own unique challenges. Here are 10 tips that I hope will help to ease the stress and make your family holiday less stressful and much more enjoyable for all.
1. Plan Ahead! When it comes to having a special needs child there are extra considerations to take into account. It’s absolutely necessary for you to plan ahead whether you are going to Aunt Jean’s for Thanksgiving dinner or having the family over. Not only will you have the usual things to prepare for like the food you will take and making sure the other family members have what they need, but you need to take extra time to plan for your special child and his needs. What to take? Who will be there? When to come home? For us, since David is in a wheelchair now, we have to consider how we will get him up any stairs. Will the bathroom be accessible?
2. Agree about time to leave. Be sure to discuss with your spouse ahead of time when you will leave. If you agree on a specific time, be sure to agree to be flexible too. If you’re sensing that stress is escalating with your child you may want to cut out before things get harry. On the other hand, if things are going smoothly and he is enjoying his cousins, you may want to extend the time. Just be sensitive. Maybe you and your spouse could have a sign you give each other.
3. The Backpack (or survival kit). For families with a special needs child, this could almost go without saying, but you need to always have a backpack or survival kit. For David, we pack his drink bottle that has an attached straw, his hand-held game WITH the charger, his Alpha Smart typing gadget so he can communicate if you wants to, and a change of cloths for emergencies. (once we had to bring him home in his cousin’s pants and underwear. His cousin is about 5 sizes bigger!)
4. Agree on a time to leave. Hopefully by now you’ve worked out a plan with your spouse where you share the responsibilities of taking care of or watching your special needs child. But in case you haven’t, discussing this issue ahead of time can really help ease the stress during a holiday get together. Does your child need help eating or going to the bathroom? Who will take care of these needs?
5. Don’t sweat the mealtime! If you are a parent that tries to teach your children to eat everything on their plate, you might considering loosening the grip for the holiday meal. A holiday meal is NOT the time to make your child eat everything on his plate with a cheerful attitude. If he is a picky eater, you might even consider bringing his favorite dish and being ok with the idea that that may be the only thing he eats. This is a time for enjoying each other, not stressing over getting your child to eat. You want to get through the meal with the least amount of drama.
6. Bring a Caregiver. I know this may seem like a far-fetched idea and it certainly doesn’t fit into everyone situation but several months ago we started receiving several hours a week of help. When the 4th of July rolled around my husband had to work. So I brought our new caregiver with us to my sister-in-laws house. It was the first time in a long time I could eat with the other adults and actual enjoy the conversation during the meal.
7. Decrease overstimulation. Does your special needs child have sensory issues? Does he get overstimulated easily? You especially need to plan ahead for this if so. Will there be a quiet room or corner he can go to? Consider bring his ipod, a calming dvd and player, his special toy that calms him, or something familiar to him.
8. Smile and say “Thank You”. We all have well-meaning friends and relatives who have the answer or advise whether or not it’s asked for. Some may even be insensitive. Now is not the time to debate. Be like a duck and let insensitive comments role off your back. Smile at your “advisers” and thank them. You don’t have to agree and you don’t have to do what they say. But you can have grace and gratitude.
9. If at all possible, invite friends and family to your home. Usually it’s easier on us, the family with a special needs child, to have guests in our house rather go to theirs. Maybe you can do the inviting early before another family member does.
10. Extended Stay. This should be a post in itself but I just wanted to touch on it. In some cases, if you are staying out of town for more than a day, consider getting a hotel. Having a hotel room gives you a chance to get away with your child for some down time. Plus, if your child is handicapped and in a wheelchair, having a handicapped bathroom is such a help!
11. Count your blessings! I find that if I count my blessings it makes the day more enjoyable, it causes me to be more patient and to appreciate those I am with.
I hope you find these tips helpful as you prepare for the holidays! May you be blessed beyond measure! Please feel free to share Your tips with us or add a comment! You are most welcome!