Families of children with special needs listen up!

For many families special needs kids, along with fun and joy, the holidays bring an extra level of stress.  Family members may not understand, and may even add to the stress if they have unrealistic expectations for your child’s behavior and what you can do about it. Below are a few tips on how you can plan ahead for the holidays…

1. Have a conversation with your spouse or partner prior to the holidays.

Problem solve potential problems ahead of time.  How are you going to keep some semblance of a routine?  How are you going to tag team when the going gets tough?  How are you going to get shopping done?  How are you going to deal with intrusive questions or hurtful comments from family members?  When are each of you going to get a break?

2. Decide what is important, and let go of the rest.

Identify what is bottom line the most important thing you want out of the holiday.  Plan to make that happen, and let go of the rest.  Many special needs kids are on their best behavior initially, and wear down once the unstructured time, lack of routine, and visits from family continue.  Plan the most important activities first.  Choose some things to let go of this year and share those with your partner and family. Skip baking the cookies this year, don’t host as many family members, let go of keeping the house in tip top shape.

3. Hire some help

Hire a sitter while you and your family go out for dinner, and don’t feel guilty about it.  Many high school and college students want some extra cash at the holiday season.  Care.com is a great resource to find help.  It lists individuals who have experience with special needs children.  If your child doesn’t do well with new people, hire someone to clean your house or hire a caterer.  The idea is to take a break for yourself so you are able to best care for your child.

4. Plan for your child’s inevitable melt-down

Any change in routine can be difficult for special needs kids to cope with.   Make sure your child has a “chill out space” that they can go to and do calming activities periodically, and when they start to go over the edge.  If you going to someone else’s house, ask the host ahead of time about whether there can be a room where your child can take a break.

5.  Praise yourself, your child, and your support systems.

Make sure you “catch your child doing good” and praise him or her for it.  Also, recognize the time and effort you are putting into the holiday and remember you both are doing the very best you can, even if meltdowns happen.  The people who love  and your child most will be understanding and will give you support. For that, give thanks.

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