Every holiday season families hit the malls, log on to Amazon, and fill their calendars with parties and holiday events. In the hustle and bustle of this season, there exists a group of families that struggle to find balance, happiness, and holiday cheer. Parents of children with special needs struggle to navigate the events, the gift giving, and the schedules associated with the holidays. Kids, in general, need to stick to their plans, but for many children with special needs going outside of their daily routine can send their entire well-being and health into a state of disarray.
Our family has struggled to navigate this time of year because my son is medically fragile. For the first few years of his life, we skipped many events due to the Holidays are at the height of influenza and cold season. We never felt like we could risk exposing our son to the germs circling. As he got older, he became more sensitive to the sensory input, noise, and the busyness of the events would lead him to a meltdown. Over time we started to frequent fewer and fewer parties because it became too difficult to manage his needs and the needs of everyone else.
Each year I talk to other parents about the frustration we experience with Holiday planning and parties, and most of us seem to have the same feelings. We feel bad we aren’t invited to events, and many of us feel frustrated that the special needs of our children are disregarded in the planning. If you are a friend or a family member to a family with a child with special needs, please consider the following to ensure the family that is already stressed out and maxed out can have a bit of peace.
Always Invite Us
If you are planning to have a party, don’t exclude families with children with special needs. Often we do cancel and can’t make it, but not getting invited to the parties hurts. More importantly, excluding our children is what bothers us the most. All children deserve to experience the magic of the season. Too often many of us find our families on the outside looking into the family parties and events because people don’t want to deal with the needs of our children. When a child is excluded explicitly due to their disability or disease, it’s not only mean-spirited, but it’s also discriminatory. Remember that even though they might need special accommodations, they are still children and still deserve to make memories.
Be Flexible with Schedules and Locations
Many children with special needs are on specific schedules to manage a myriad of issues. Families have to juggle naps, medications, and bedtimes. Try to work with your loved one on finding a time that will work with the schedule of the child. Asking a family to be there for an evening event that starts at 7 pm, may not be the most practical solution. Consider changing the times of parties that are suitable to their needs. Be flexible with the location as well as it might be difficult for the family to drive a long distance to an event with their child. Finding a place to meet in the middle can be a great compromise for all people involved.
Plan Smaller Events
Big parties with large amounts of people can be incredibly overwhelming for many children with special needs. Many children in this community have sensory processing issues that make noisy environments overstimulating, and it can lead them to meltdown. Consider a smaller gathering of just a few close people to celebrate with during this time. A room full of strangers, noise, and music can terrify a lot of children. Please remember that their experience does matter, and it will be how they shape their thoughts and feelings about the Holidays. Help them make pleasant memories that are filled with joy and happiness.
Purchase Developmentally Appropriate Gifts
Many children with special needs are also developmentally delayed. Just because a child is biologically ten years old does not mean they are interested or understand typical toys or games 10-year-old old. Make sure you check with their parents before purchasing them presents. Sometimes the hardest things for the parent is having their child receive a gift they will never play with our touch. Many children may not even want to play with toys at all. Parents will be able to give you ideas of gifts that will suit their child’s developmental age and skill. This might mean you have to buy items that are not typical, but the child will get more significant benefit with a gift they can use than one that will sit on a shelf.
Plan Events that are Accessible
If your family has a child that is in a wheelchair, uses braces for walking, has a gait trainer, or has special seating for positioning, try to arrange events that will accommodate the child. When a child has a physical disability, their parents will need to bring a lot of items to keep them happy during the event. Consider finding locations that do not have stairs, have accessible bathrooms, and enough room for the gear that is needed for the child to attend. There is nothing harder on a parent of a child with mobility issues than to go to a home with numerous stairs, no place for their child’s wheelchair, or no place for their child to sit safely.
Planning for the Holidays should not have to be stressful for families. The best way to help your loved ones that are caring for a child with special needs is to work with them to ensure they are included. This will take a little extra planning to ensure the party is at the right time, in the right space, and has the right gifts. However, the preparation will be worth it when you see the light in the child’s eyes and see their happiness as they experience the magic of the season. Most importantly including the family in the event will reduce the isolation they feel raising their child with special needs. No one should be alone during the Holidays, and every family deserves to have memories filled with joy and happiness.