Tis the season! Bring on the holidays! The parties, the shopping, the decorating, the traditions, and the STRESS! Add special needs into the mix, and well, it could be a recipe for disaster. I'm no expert, but my autistic and then some son is ten, so through the years, I have learned a few things. Here's my top ten.
Number One: Prepare, prepare, prepare!
By this I mean, do you best to know what parties you'll be attending at least a week ahead of time. I personally try to get all mine figured out by the first of December. I do this because this way I have plenty of time to prepare my son. We talk about what days we are going where, and what we'll be doing. We talk about whom will most likely be there, and about how long we plan on staying. (That's not to say we don't leave early if need be. That leads me into number two.)
Number Two: Have an Escape Plan
Now I know what you're thinking, do you REALLY need an "escape plan?" Yes! Yes you do. Parties, people, and tons of smells and loud noises can be overwhelming to neurotypical people, imagine how it is for someone who is sensitive to all of these things? Always have an escape plan, complete with a code word. For example, we have two types.
- We have a code word or a signal for Liam that means he needs some space and quiet. When he says this word, or gives us this signal, one of us excuses ourselves from the party, and takes Liam to a quiet room, or outside if possible.
- This code word and signal is reserved for "I can't take anymore, and I need to go home." Our families know by now that this sometimes happens, and they know if we suddenly excuse ourselves and start saying goodbyes, then Liam needs to go NOW.
Number Three: Shop online
Many of us already do that, but I kid you not, as a special needs mom, online shopping is a life saver! The crowds, the noises, the lights, the smells, it's a lot. Grocery shopping can be hard enough, but Christmas shopping with a special needs kid is sometimes super tough. So don't feel guilty. If you can get it online, do it! If you can order your groceries, have them delivered, or even just go to the store to pick them up, DO IT! I do, and let me tell you, it's a life saver!
Number Four: Let go of perfection
The holidays are NEVER perfect. We're not living in a Norman Rockwell painting. All you should strive for is a peaceful and happy holiday. Which brings me to the tree. I have mild OCD. My son has OCD a bit more extreme. We clash when it comes to the tree. I used to dread doing it because all his favorite ornaments were front and center, pretty much on one branch. I'd move them, and the next time i turned around, he moved them back. I gave up. I let him decorate his way, while I mildly coax him to space them out, and I LET IT GO! Decorating the tree has been so much more enjoyable since I learned this lesson. Remember, they won't be young forever, and there will come a day that they won't care about decorating the tree. That's your time to shine!
Number Five: Always take food
If you don't already do this, now would be a good time to start. Find a nice separated lunch box, or bento box, and pack it with your child's preferred foods. Or take their favorites as your dish to pass at the party. Don't force them to eat foods they can't handle. Food aversions are so real, and you really don't want your kid vomiting at friends or families homes.
Number Six: No matter how old your child is, a change of clothes is needed
When my son hit about four, I stopped taking changes of clothes. He had been potty trained for a few years, and I figured I didn't need them. I was wrong. One Thanksgiving he couldn't get his dress pants unbuttoned. Which led to him peeing himself. I had no clean clothing. This led to my son wearing a pair of his nana's undies, and one of her tee shirts. (Thank goodness she's tiny!) This leads me into Number Seven....
Number Seven: Let them be comfy
Many of us like to dress up for the holidays. If you're a housewife like me, it may be the few times a year you don NICE clothing, and actually wear make up. But don't force your kids to dress up. Clothing sensitivities are hell, and how much fun will they have in a scratchy sweater, and pants they can't undo? None. They'll have no fun, and most likely neither will you. My solution to this was to design my son an "ugly Christmas sweatshirt." He can't handle sweaters of any kind, but he can do sweatshirts. So I designed him one and he loves it. I also buy him nice black sweat pants. That way he's warm, comfy, and he doesn't look terrible either.
Number Eight: Let us stim
This applies to every day, but I'm adding it here because some parents will distract a stim when at a function or party. Don't. As long as your child isn't harming themselves or someone else, let them stim away. It makes us happy. It helps us calm ourselves. It helps us decompress.
Number Nine: Take fidgets, tablets, phones and more
Screen time calms us. Let us have it. Also bring fidgets or preferred toys to keep us busy. Maybe include a board game that your kids like to play that he or she can share with cousins or friends kids. Liam always has a bag of stuff that he takes and his top choices are his tablet, iPhone, squeezy fidgets, a few cars, and a game.
Number Ten: Don't feel bad for saying no
If your child is having a rough day, and you know that attending a party will not be conducive to him or her, then don't go. Don't feel guilty. Stuff happens. I promise you that we have missed many a party because of this reason. Family and true friends will get it. They may be disappointed, but they will get it. Instead, let your kiddo pick out his or her favorite Christmas movie, grab some snacks and chill.
Have a Happy Flappy Christmas
Do what makes your child happy. Do what works for YOUR family. Do for others as you or your child can tolerate. But most of all, enjoy the holiday with your kids. They're only young once. Make memories that you will forever cherish. Even if they involve staying home in your jammies.