Christmas, Special Needs, and Surviving Gatherings
It’s the Christmas season again. Time to get out the decorations, visit with family and prepare for tantrums, stripping naked, and for asking to go home as soon as we get there. Am I talking about some kind of kinky Christmas special?
No, I’m thinking about Christmas and autism.
While experience has made us stronger and Rachel is calmer when it comes to tolerating family get-togethers, we still have set-backs and all the above behaviors.
What to do…? Here are some things I have learned:
- Keep a sense of humor. Not. Always. Easy.
- Prepare. If we are going somewhere to eat, I pack food for Rachel. I pick my battles with her and a family gathering with all the noise and extra chaos is not the time for me, not if I want to keep my sanity.
- Don’t worry about her looking all decked out for the occasion. If I can get her to wear a cute dress with Christmas colors, great. If not, I don’t worry about it. Yes, it would be nice to have idyllic pictures, but I look at it this way: if I dress her in something she hates, she will strip naked. Thus, quite un-idyllic pics. At least if she wears something she tolerates we have a better chance of being able to share the photos …
- Bring activities for her that she likes. If we are going to give her presents at the event, I try to make it something she is highly interested in, even if she already has it. I might even wrap up something she likes and give it to her again. I don’t mean I do this all the time or even most of the time, but sometimes the fun is in opening the present, not in what is in the box. This way I am pretty certain she will be occupied with the present, although Rachel keeps me guessing.
- Chat with the hostess ahead of time. I tell people we may have to leave early, we may have to leave and come back, and we may not even make it, although that is getting rare these days. The important thing is that I feel prepared ahead of time. If the need arises to give Rachel some space, I already have worked through any awkwardness. That being said, Rachel doesn’t always get to decide when we leave. We work on telling her to wait and telling her no NOW so that a big gathering isn’t the first time she hears it. This prevents her throwing a fit and getting reinforced when she gets her way.
- Plan ahead on timing to avoid the meltdowns. Just as a toddler (and mommies) needs a nap, I try to either familiarize Rachel with the place we are going or find ways to help her cope then leave before she loses it. This way she feels successful, and the rest of us don’t feel railroaded.
- Make plans with the other family members. Sometimes eldest and hubby stay longer at events. Sometimes hubby takes Rachel early. Sometimes Rachel doesn’t want to leave at all. Sometimes we make plans for eldest ahead of time so that she is free to either leave with us or stay longer. The key is planning ahead for the possibilities, which will lower your stress level.
- I get stressed out in crowded, loud environments. Give your sensory challenged child breaks and ways to manage the huge influx of stimulation at bigger events. Find a quiet room, make a trip to the grocery store (which will be empty, especially if a big football game is on), take a walk, pet the dog outside, or something else that provides a respite for the person with sensory challenges.
- I’ve said this one before, but it bears repeating. Don’t cram too much into your schedule. You might miss out on something that sounds fun, but keeping things simple will probably be better for your family in the long run.
Merry Christmas, my friends. May we have a MOMent to remember the One who gave us this holiday in the first place.