Solutions for Holiday Survival with Special Needs Kids
The holidays are an exciting time of year, but for families with special needs children, they can also be particularly stressful. Some children, such as those with autism, cannot easily cope with changes in routine, loud and overbearing relatives, and shopping-crazed Black Friday crowds at the mall. Other kids with articulation disorders and similar speech issues might become frustrated that they cannot communicate well with extended family members. Some families choose to skip the mayhem altogether and take off for a relaxing vacation in Costa Rica. But if Costa Rica isn’t in the cards for your family, consider these solutions for holiday survival with a special needs child.
Prepare Your Child
Many special needs children can benefit from a little extra preparation for the holiday season. Discuss exactly what’s going to happen when your family goes to the airport or to Aunt Mary’s house. Discuss who is going to be there and how your child can best interact with them. Children with a sensory integration disorder (SID) can be reminded that if they get overwhelmed, they can retreat to a quieter room for a while.
Roleplaying can also help children with speech disorders. Pretend that you are Aunt Mary, and hand your child a gift. Your child can practice good manners and thank Aunt Mary for the gift. Roleplaying is also beneficial for conversation skills. Children who have difficulty with pragmatic language skills can practice taking turns in a conversation, making eye contact with you, and changing the topic of conversation at appropriate times.
Prepare Your Relatives
If the relatives that you plan to visit for the holidays haven’t had many opportunities to interact with your child, talk to them about your child’s speech disorder. Explain that Jonas needs a little extra time to respond to questions, for example, or that Sarah has difficulty forming certain sounds. You might encourage your relatives to always face Jonas so that he can see that person’s lips move, or your relatives might interact with Sarah by using her picture exchange communication system (PECS) cards.
As a parent, you probably feel that it’s your job to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. But remember that no family is perfect. Kids get overwhelmed, relatives stick their feet in their mouths, and the best laid plans often go awry. Try to set aside the stress and enjoy family get-togethers. As well, it never hurts to have an escape plan. If your youngster has sensory issues, for example, have a prearranged signal. Your child can signal you that he really, really needs to get to a quieter place without being rude.
Survive the Holidays
In addition to preparing your special needs child for the holidays, check out the list of quick tips below. And remember that changes in routine can also disrupt speech therapy sessions. Pack Speech Buddies and other speech therapy tools so your child can fit in some articulation practice during the car trip or while waiting at the airport.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep
- Don’t feel guilty about turning down a few holiday party invitations if you’ve got a mailbox full of them
- Bring a backpack with some of your child’s favorite toys to the family get-together
- Volunteer to supervise all the kids; this way, you can work with your child on his communication skills
- Deflect comments from misinformed relatives by explaining your child’s needs in the simplest terms possible