While the holidays can be the most amazing time of wonderment for some children, it can also be a time of torture for our children with special needs. Particularly for our children with sensory and cognitive disabilities. Routine and environmental supports fly out the window with the news that Santa Clause is coming to town! Yet, how do you balance the happiness of the holidays for your typically developing kids with the needs of your child with special needs? This was never easy, but if not done it could make the holidays miserable.
When our daughter first came to us, she joined our family of 3 very lively boys. The first year of the holidays was not as expected with her acting out, crying constantly, and not able to sleep. Of course this was 25 years ago and little was known about sensory issues, her diagnosis of FAS had not been shared with us and we were very confused.
As the years went by, out of desperation, I’m sure, we developed a great program for making the most of the holidays. Without a diagnosis or putting a name to her issues, such as “sensory dysfunction”, we instinctively made new traditions to make the holidays happy once again.
Any shopping with our daughter was short, sweet, and at a time when the stores were not at peak capacity. The Christmas picture with Santa was scary for her and there were some years she wasn’t in it. The Christmas tree was decorated only one week before Christmas as the anticipation of Christmas was just too much for her to handle, and Christmas presents were never put under the tree until Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed. There were events that were just too overwhelming for her and although the boys enjoyed them we didn’t take our daughter as we knew we all would pay the price of over stimulation. A special movie night at home was planned for her with one parent, and the boys went with the other parent. The Christmas program at school was so sweet, but for our daughter it was terror to get up in front of a crowd. We worked with her teacher for her to sit with us in the audience and watch her classmates and the meltdowns we were experiencing were greatly reduced. As the year passed and we began to understand more about her sensitivities, we developed coping strategies such as headphones with her favorite music, sunglasses for too much light, soft textures in clothing, and foods with very little texture.
Parent instinct is a wonderful thing. We never had any formal training or information, but as parents we learned to trust our instincts. You know your child better than anyone and instinctively know what is best!
Our daughter is now an adult with an amazing ability to self-advocate. She takes her headphones everywhere, is not afraid to tell anyone they are being too loud or that she can’t handle the over stimulation and will remove herself if she feels overwhelmed. She is a success, and isn’t that what we all want for our children? With a little planning, awareness, and understanding, your family can also have a more joyful holiday season, paving the way for success.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!