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3 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with your Special Needs Child

1. Give yourself grace

With this season comes the exciting buzz of shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking. You might have invitations to gingerbread house decorating parties, ugly Christmas sweater parties, or company holiday parties. As a parent with higher-than-usual stresses & responsibilities, give yourself the grace to say “no” to anything that’s going to add to the stress & potentially set you over the edge. If you do decide to partake in festivities, ask the host/hostess to forgive a last minute RSVP or change in RSVP if the chance for a successful visit seems uncertain. Don’t worry about trying to create the perfect holiday card, best decorated house on the block, or Pinterest-worthy gifts for the kids’ teachers. If you can’t donate to the class holiday party, it’s okay! If you can’t host a cookie decorating party on the weekend, your kids will have plenty of other opportunities to appease that sweet tooth! At the end of the day, what matter is time with family, the opportunity to give, and celebrating the true reason for the season….. oh, and keeping your sanity!

2. Be prepared

Whether you’re the one hosting Christmas Eve dinner, or going to a relative’s for dinner, be as prepared as possible. Because I was recently responsible for Thanksgiving dinner, and was facing sleepless nights due to my son’s nursing coverage, I prepped as much in advance as possible. Set the table days in advance. Assemble those casseroles and desserts the day before. Ask for help from your family by bringing a dish. Alternatively, if you’re headed to an unfamiliar home with your child, try some of these tips: tote familiar toys, fidgets, activities, or music from home. Consult with the host beforehand to agree on a quiet space to which your child can escape the noise and confusion. Take the lead watching out for your child when attending your spouses’ family holiday celebrations, and vice versa. Ask a family member or friend familiar with your child’s needs to give you a few breaks so that you can mingle or rest. If you have a wheelchair dependent child, know ahead of time about accessibility to prevent difficulties and disappointments if you have to leave. To lessen the holiday stress, prepare, prepare, prepare!

3. Know your child’s limits

While giving yourself grace, also know that your child needs and deserves the same grace. Recognize beforehand that the cold chill of the walk-through nativity scene on Friday night could send your child’s senses into overdrive. For a medically fragile child, remember that being out in the community during this time may expose them to multitudes of germs and affect their health. Talk with your child about where you are going, what to expect, what he or she can and cannot do, and how you will help them. Recognize that walking into an unfamiliar home, with its new sights, sounds and smells, can be stressing to your child and they may need to flip light switches, touch knick-knacks, or find a quiet place to calm the sensory overload. Schedule a calming activity to follow the event, such as music listening or walking. While it is large responsibility to host during the holidays, determine if it is more beneficial for your child to stay in or to visit elsewhere. In some ways, you may find that some of the best memories can be made in the peace of their own home of doing what they like to do, safely and happily. Cherish each moment this holiday season!

By Rachel Marini and Judy Stup

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