The holiday season can look a bit different in the special needs world, I know it does for us!
My boxes of Christmas decorations remain in the garage, the only way we deck the halls is with a tree. The last two years, the tree only has ornaments on the top half, where Lennon can’t reach. (It will be fully decorated for one day when we attempt to take pictures) We don’t allow hooks, glass or any breakable ornaments as anything and everything goes in Lennon’s mouth. No centerpieces on the tables or gifts wrapped under the tree until Christmas morning – they would only be destroyed.
No traditional menu for family gatherings. Lennon would eat all the rolls, but definitely no turkey, mashed potatoes, or cranberry sauce. And he’ll eat like a caveman – no utensils required. More than likely our meal will be just like any other day – no sense making something special if no one will enjoy it.
When it’s time, we’ll do hand-over-hand to open gifts, which he’ll probably resist. There will be lots of play breaks needed or, like last year, I’ll just give up and unwrap them on my own – knowing full well what each box contains, because I probably wrapped it myself.
Grandparents will request pictures of Lennon enjoying the gifts they bought him and I’ll oblige by staging Lennon and his new toys in such a way that he looks interested in them and they won’t feel some semblance of the defeat I feel daily as I try to encourage “normal” play.
By noon I’ll probably be so depressed that I will have already started taking down the tree.
While these challenges are ours, many face other obstacles in their special needs world. Family members who don’t understand, the sensory overload, meltdowns due to schedule changes. Just know that you are not alone and that your feelings are valid.
Hosting a Gathering?
Here are some ways to make sure your guests with special needs feel comfortable and included.
– Remove any expectations you may have as it may not be the picture perfect family get-together you’re hoping for. I know better, but on Christmas morning I still hold out hope that Lennon will wake up and run to the tree all excited to open his presents. That doesn’t happen, it’s probably never going to happen, and that’s totally okay.
– When you are meal-planning for your gathering consider asking if anyone has a dietary restriction or simply include allergen free food options. Many people on the autism spectrum and those with other special needs are prone to gut issues and often have food sensitivities and allergies that can greatly impact their health and behavior. A gluten free, casein free (GFCF) diet is fairly common.
– Large gatherings mean sensory overload for a lot of kiddos. Consider dimming the lights, lowering the volume on the music, and giving your scented candles and potpourri the night off. You should also think about having a “quiet space” available that someone can escape to. At our house blenders are an absolute no-no when Lennon is nearby.
– I imagine many holiday parties have games. When we used to attend family gatherings we did this weird activity where you tried to stick a bunch of cotton balls to someone’s face to make Santa’s beard. The team with the fullest beard at the end won. As fun as these are to some, never force participation. You should certainly invite them to participate, but if they shy away or decline that’s their choice. Social settings can be incredibly uncomfortable.
– Ask if you can help the parent (or child) in any way when you see a meltdown. Now this one is very important to me, but the thing that hurts me the most is when other parents (upon seeing Lennon act out in some way) tell me, “That’s all kids.” First, no, it isn’t. And second, by them saying that they invalidate what he’s going through and what I’m going through. I understand that what they are probably trying to do is make me feel less alone, but I would encourage you to take a different approach. Simply asking to help can make a world of difference.
– Don’t get angry if they aren’t going to attend, cancel last minute, arrive late, or leave early. I’m only sort of kidding when I say that there is a time limit on acceptable public behaviors. And sometimes that limit is so short it isn’t worth the stress and hassle of attending. Sometimes they expire on the way to the gathering and sometimes the moment they arrive. For Lennon, he typically starts to act out the moment his cup runs dry, his plate is cleared, or his tablet battery dies … Oh, and don’t judge when they bust out the iPad.
The Findlay Invitational Open will take place one Dec. 12th at the Desert Pines Golf Club. This inaugural event will benefit FEAT of Southern Nevada.
Sport Social has several camp days scheduled in November and December. Fun is the focus as campers rotate through a full day of activities that include sports, art, and games.
The 16th annual fun run has gone virtual for 2020. Head to LVSantaRun.com to register, all proceeds from the event support people with disabilities at Opportunity Village. Event runs Dec. 5-26th.
Have resources you think we should check out? Send a message on instagram and let me know!
Need Holiday Cards
Send out beautiful holiday cards while supporting Opportunity Village. Each card is designed by an artist with disabilities. It is $10 for a pack of 8. They also have a wide variety of artwork hand painted by people who served available for sale.