‘Tis the season for holiday cheer, fun, and family time! Our folks at the Disability Acton Center love this time of the year as we get to celebrate all our favorite holidays, however this time may also offer certain challenges for our friends who fall on the Autism Spectrum, or who have other sensitivities or special needs. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are some of the best times of the year, and we want to ensure that all of our friends at all ability levels have a safe, comfortable, and FUN time with family and friends.
- Talk about what to expect with your family member who has a disability. Create a visual with them; maybe incorporate drawings or pictures to prepare for the activities.
- Try on Halloween costumes before Halloween night! Pay attention to how comfortable your family member acts in the costume. Is it itchy, is it uncomfortable, is it too cold for the night of trick-or-treating?
- Practice trick-or-treating before the night of. If you are choosing to participate in trick-or-treating, practice going to a friend or neighbor’s home, ringing the doorbell, saying “trick-or-treat”, and receiving candy. Go over how much candy is appropriate to take. If your family member is able to say thank you, encourage that they do. If you are choosing to hand out candy during trick-or-treating, talk about what to expect, that people will come to your door dressed oddly, ring the bell, and then what they are expected to do and how to act appropriately.
- Discuss costumes, especially scary costumes. Our friends and family members need to be aware that there are some costumes that might look different and may even be scary. Make sure they understand that it is not real, only pretend, and they are meant to be funny and fun. If this is a serious issue, maybe consider dressing up, watching a movie, doing crafts, or having some fun and festive activities in the comfort of a trusted home.
- Don’t push the limits. Only do as much as your friend or family member can handle. If they do not feel comfortable, they are not having fun.
- For allergies, look for a Teal Pumpkin flyer (see below and follow link). Or consider preparing several of your own safe options, and give them to neighbors a day or two before. Let neighbors know your family member has allergies and what they will be dressed as so that when you get to their house, they will be prepared to give the safe treat.
- If everyone meets at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving, make sure that Grandma’s house is accessible for your family member or friend who has mobility issues or uses a wheelchair. There are many assistive technologies that can be purchased or rented for occasions like this so that traveling can be made easier.
- Keep in mind your family member’s food allergies at Thanksgiving time. Gluten or wheat allergies can cut out many traditional Thanksgiving options. Be prepared to bring a special meal with you for your friend with allergies.
- Talk about the event. Prepare your family member for the day’s events. Go over a rough schedule, of the day and your family’s traditions that can be expected. Talk about how many people may be present at the family get together.
- For relatives that don’t understand autism or don’t see your family member with special needs often, talk beforehand about some of the odder behaviors they may exhibit. This prevents them from being alarmed or taken aback in the middle of the festivities.
- If having a Thanksgiving in your own home, where your family member with special needs is comfortable is an option, this can help keep stress low and ensure they are enjoying the day.
- Discuss the schedule of the Christmas Celebration, for example what day you go to who’s house, where you are eating dinner, and when you are celebrating with which family members. Knowing the transitions and what is happening next will help the person with special needs feel less anxiety.
- Come up with a code word for you and your family member with special needs to know. If they become overwhelmed, respond immediately to the code word, have a quiet place to calm down. Giving them this control over overstimulating activities will reduce anxiety.
- For sensory sensitivities consider bringing earplugs, sunglasses, or comfortable clothing to change into. Know your family member’s limitations and be ready to handle them in case a meltdown begins.
- Limit decorations if your friend with special needs is easily over-stimulated.
- Let Go of Your Expectations “My son Gavin has cerebral palsy and when he turned two, I wrapped every present and couldn’t wait for him to open them on Christmas morning,” says Kate Gallagher Leong of Chasing Rainbows.“It was one of the worst mornings of his little life. He has issues with fine-motor skills, and forcing him to use his hands to rip open the paper was more like therapy than Christmas. That’s when I realized I shouldn’t project my Norman Rockwell Christmas onto my child. The following year, every toy was out of its box and ready to play with, making a bright and inviting display under the tree. The look on Gavin’s face as he moved from one toy to the other made it the best morning of all our lives!”
- Wrap Up Familiar Toys – If your child is not keen on opening presents because they’re new and unfamiliar, try wrapping up some favorite toys. Sometimes unwrapping something familiar is very reassuring.
- Add cinnamon to your child’s play-dough to gradually introduce new smells. One thing that people with autism complain about during the holidays is the many different perfume smells coming from visiting adults. Ask your family and friends to hold off on the perfume.
I hope these tips are helpful. Follow the links to check out where the information came from and to see more pointers when celebrating with our friends with special needs! Also, if you have any experiences, tips, or advice you’d like to share please email us or message us on Facebook!
Enjoy the holidays J