December 2, 2010
Thursday Guest Blogger
Through my Thursday posts I’d like to provide a more widespread forum for parents, family members, and practitioners of children with disabilities to provide practical tips for parents, as well as a place to share their views on raising a child with a disability. These contributions will be their ideas and stories, and not necessarily reflect the sentiments of those of autismmommytherapist
Today’s guest blogger is Mary Craig, welcome!
Surviving the holidays
The holiday season can be stressful enough without throwing an over-stimulated, melting down child into the mix. Stores can send an Autistic child into a tail spin this time of year. The lights, the music, the crowds….heck I’m not even Autistic and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed! Don’t even bring up the parking situation!
I’m a glass half full type of girl so I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I still like to believe I’m capable of making Martha Stewart-esk holidays come true for my family all alone even if she does have scads of staff helping her. My linens will be pressed and the holiday meal perfectly timed. Haha!! All of my gifts will be wrapped with shiny wrapping paper carefully selected to match the tree’s theme too. My children will be dressed in coordinating outfits befitting both a boy child and girl child. The pictures will never have red eye and the cat won’t have eaten curly ribbon off the gifts either. Okay now I’m coming back down to earth.
In reality, I’m a lucky mom if I can keep my son from wiping food or his nose on his shirt as soon as I dress him. I keep it simple for myself by making sure I have more than one shirt that would match for quick changes. If I can frame up a photo and actually get both kids into it together it’s a Holiday Miracle. As our kids grow each year the holiday photos become a little easier and sometimes there’s even pictures of our son’s sweet face instead of a streak reminiscent of Dash from the Incredibles running by the camera. Take lots of photos because you might be surprised what you catch purely by accident.
Holiday meals can be fodder for nightmares for many years to come here. The gravy in my son’s hair, stuffing on his pants and icing from cookies all over his sweet face as he gives me a big hug & kiss are minor inconveniences compared to dealing with people who just don’t try to understand. I do my best to prepare our kids for conducting themselves properly amongst china, tablecloths and crystal by practicing. I drag out fabric napkins during the week & set the table for Sunday dinner with china so they understand better. If your child obsesses about candles and wants to jump up and blow them out while regaling everyone with their rendition of Happy Birthday then find some flameless candles or skip them all together. So far our practicing is working well and we actually had people complement our children’s behavior in a restaurant. They had no way of knowing how much that meant to my husband and me!
I’m certain those thoughtless people who tell you discipline would stop a meltdown are really just clueless & not truly insensitive enough to miss the signs that it’s not a lack of a backbone on your part. People that genuinely care about your family will want to know how to make your child feel welcome and comfortable as you spend the holidays together. If they ask, be honest. If they don’t ask, make suggestions. Don’t be shy! Most Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles would rather get this special child in their lives a nice gift than something that will never see the light of day in the playroom once the wrapping paper is gone. If it helps them try creating a wish list online if they’re tech savvy enough that will ease all of your minds. Often they can select gifts and even have items wrapped & shipped. A gift registry also helps to let people know your child doesn’t already have a certain item. No returns makes my life easier!
My son (aka the Undecorator) loves the holidays. He dances to the music and takes the ornaments off the tree as quickly as I put them on the tree. He loves to bounce the ornaments all around the house. Last year we had 3 Christmas trees decorated and my son was in Holiday Heaven! After he broke a dozen ornaments in less an hour’s time, I immediately headed to the shatterproof ornament section of a local store. I found some pretty options that complemented each tree’s theme and the Undecorator was pleased as well. Compromise makes for a happy family at our house. I will keep the bottom portions of the tree shatterproof if you don’t attempt to climb it or break anymore of the breakable ones.
Keeping your child’s favorite things (video game, a lovie, special toy) with you as you travel over the river and through the woods is a great way to ease any anxiety about new places. Encourage your child to show their friends and relatives their toy and how it works. You can practice giving and receiving gifts. Both of my children have struggled with the concept of giving gifts as they usually enjoy being on the receiving end better. Now I also try to include my kids in the selection, wrapping or making of gifts we give. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing my little guy who can’t talk run over to his friend and present a gift with a big smile on his face. Prepare others who may not have experience with Autistic kids. Explain to your friends and relatives that it isn’t that your child dislikes their gift or that they won’t enjoy it but more that it can get overwhelming opening too many things at once.
If it makes it easier then invite everyone to your home. Your kids will be on their home turf and you can establish a “safe zone” where they can go to wind down if they’re overwhelmed. This helps if you adhere to a strict diet too. I say if you decide to do this then put things in place for yourself to make it less crazy; hire a cleaning crew, order Holiday dinner to go from your favorite restaurant, ask others to bring specific things and make as many dishes ahead to make your entertaining easier. Give your family opportunities to succeed during the holidays if it’s making a Gingerbread House kit, enjoying the town tree lighting or being able to sit on Santa’s lap for a quick picture…embrace it all!! Let go of that Norman Rockwell vision and just make it all about enjoying time with the people you love most in the world. If there are people who don’t make your entire family feel loved and accepted then I say just avoid interacting with them. Cherish the small moments and revel in the love! Happy Holidays!