The holidays are all about traditions. They are the umbilical cord linking us to past and future generations.They are a safety blanket providing comfort and familiarity to the celebrations. Each one holds a special place in our hearts and is missed like a beloved great uncle if absent. In fact, the fact that we have the holidays at all is in itself a tradition.
Christmas was a monumental undertaking in my family. The women in the family would start planning and shopping at the wholesalers almost as soon as one year’s celebrations ended. It wasn’t shopping for presents because those were not really part of the celebrations, they shopped for something far more important – FOOD. Each year on December 25th, my relatives would descend on the host’s house, at least sixty of us! There would be mountains and mountains of food and drinks, music and a whole year’s worth of news to catch up on. It was noisy, chaotic and went on well into the wee hours. It was also loads of fun. For the kids, it was the best playdate of the year!
Since my kids were diagnosed with autism, I look back on those days and see just how much of a nightmare that type of a holiday celebration would have been for my own little family. While it would be great to see family and celebrate some of our traditions, I would need to make a few weeks to ensure that everyone had a great time. For most special needs families, the holidays do need a little more planning to ensure that this is indeed the happiest time of the year:
To host or not to host
If your family is like my extended family when I was growing up, I would definitely not host. Those gatherings would last until well into the early hours of the next morning, with music and dancing right up to the end. By not hosting, you have control over when the party ends and you go back to the peace and quiet of your own home.
Some families prefer to host so that their child can remain in familiar surroundings. Think about what’s best for your child and immediate family.
Be flexible about the menu
I always have food that I know my kids will enjoy. Yes, there are certain types of foods associated with specific holiday celebrations but the kids shouldn’t be forced to eat them, especially if it will take some of the joy out of the holidays.
Sometimes dinner is not at the table
For some children with autism, being required to sit at the kids table with several cousins may be too overwhelming. Too many people, too many pieces of cutlery striking plates and they may just prefer a quieter space.
Do your best to reduce judgemental comments by letting everyone know your child’s needs. People often comment from ignorance and if you’ve done your part to educate them, especially about your child’s unusual interests or habits and they are still judgemental, then there is not much you can do. When we first arrive at someone’s house, especially if there is a party and it’s very busy, my son will flush the toilet 100 before he finally settles down and can start playing and exploring. At the moment, he needs that to regulate himself. We just don’t go to anyone’s house who would be freaked out by the flushing.
Encourage breaks when needed
Keep an eye on your child and give them breaks when you think they need them. Remember that by the time they feel that they need a break, it may be too late! You may not need it, but it’s always good to have a familiar, beloved entertainment that you can set up in a quiet corner for your child if things get overwhelming.
Keep an eye on what they eat
There is a lot of food around during the holidays and quite a bit of that is special food you don’t usually have around. Keep your child on any new foods your child is eating and how their body responds to it.
Wrap a special Gift of attention
The holidays can be a very busy time for everyone. Make a point of spending a few minutes of quality time with your child giving them your full attention.
Make a decision to have fun and make memories this holiday season.
Holidays maybe all about the traditions but keep them only if they still work for your family.