Thanksgiving is three days away and then the official countdown to Christmas in on! I’ve learned the hard way just how stressful and emotional the holidays can be when you have a child with special needs. Plans don’t always go smoothly. Picture-perfect holiday memories often become messy meltdowns.
Something as simple as going to a Christmas light display can result in sensory overload and unmet expectations. The holidays are hard; but there are so many ways to make them special. Here’s five tips I’ve learned over the years…
- Lower Your Expectations
Before I became a mom, I had a million ideas of what Christmas would be like when I had a child of my own. I’m sort of a perfectionist and a tad bit Type-A. I wanted Christmas to be magical. I wanted to have tons of traditions. Heck, my mother-in-law bought Jackson Elf on a Shelf when he was just a few months old (and until this year, it’s remained in the box on the top shelf of his closet).
Five years later, we are finally introducing the Elf. I wanted so desperately to start the tradition before now, but Jackson wasn’t ready. And honestly, I’m still not sure he is. But we’re doing it anyway. You know that part where you’re not supposed to touch the elf or he’ll lose his magic? Um, I’m going to have to let that go. I’m pretty sure my child with Dyspraxia and ADHD won’t be able to keep his hands off the little guy. And that’s okay. We will just come up with a way for him to gain his magic back so he can report to Santa each night.
2. Do What’s Best for YOUR Family
I remember the first time we had to make a really tough holiday decision. Jackson had just turned two and wasn’t talking. He was so frustrated and meltdowns were our new normal. He was easily overwhelmed and so were we. We were supposed to spend Christmas Eve with my mom’s family (something we’ve done every year of my entire life) but John and I both knew it was going to be too much for Jackson. Too many people. Too overwhelming. A disaster waiting to happen. So we broke the news to my parents: Jackson and John would stay home and I would go to the family celebration. I know my parents were heartbroken. Heck, I was disappointed, too. But in my heart I knew it was the right decision.
Follow your heart. Do what’s best for your family. That may mean saying no to things you’d really like to say yes to. You may hurt feelings. Family and friends may not understand. But do it anyway. The holidays will be less stressful for you and your child if you do.
3. Start Your Own Traditions
Last year we decided to take Jackson to a popular Christmas light display. After waiting in line forever, we finally found a place to park and got out to enjoy the lights. Between the insane amount of people, music and very bright lights, Jackson was completely out of sorts. Sensory overload was an understatement. He was minutes away from a meltdown. He was struggling, but he also desperately wanted to see the lights. We had to bribe him with ice-cream to get him back to the car. As we walked away from the event, Jackson began to calm down.
Back at the car, we buckled Jackson in his carseat and made our way through the lights to exit the event. Secure and snug in this carseat, Jackson became super excited about the lights. At that moment we realized we could still enjoy looking at Christmas lights, we just had to do it from the comfort of our car.
So now we have a new tradition. We put on our pajamas, load up in the car and turn on Christmas music. We drive around town looking at lights for as long as we want.
4. Take Advantage of Special Events for Special Needs Families
Our tradition of going to Bass Pro Shop to see Santa started when Jackson was less than 24 hours old. I know, I know, maybe not the wisest parenting decision. Each year we’ve stood in line, messed with the crowds and I’ve stressed out about getting his picture made with Santa. Last year was almost a disaster. Bass Pro Shop is a tad bit overwhelming to a boy with Sensory Processing Disorder. He was more interested in the Christmas train and monster trucks than telling St. Nick what he wanted for Christmas. We were minutes away from a meltdown and he wanted nothing to do with the guy in red. We left Bass Pro without a photo and I vowed not to put our family through that again.
Sticking by that decision, we’ve signed Jackson up for a Sensitive Santa event at our local mall. Santa will be in a private room (away from the chaos of the mall). There won’t be a line to wait in and Jackson will have time to warm up to the idea of sitting in Santa’s lap.
5. When Things Get Bad, Try To Laugh
The same year we decided not to take Jackson to my families Christmas Eve celebration, he also knocked over my parent’s Christmas tree. Then, Jackson and I fell down my parent’s stairs on Christmas Day. It was pretty much a disaster. It was like a sequel to Christmas Vacation.
I’m pretty sure I cried. It was the most stressful Christmas ever! I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Thankfully I’ve learned a few things since that disastrous year. I’m not crushed by unmet expectations.
Holidays look different than I imagined, but different doesn’t mean bad.
I can now look back and laugh at our Christmas Vacation moments and I’m sure Jackson will do the same one day, too.