You guys … The holidays. They are comin’ in hot and I have decided to act a little like an adult this year and set my expectations at an appropriate level. The past has taught me one or two things about the holidays. Yes, with them comes a healthy amount of magic. But sometimes along with that magic comes an overwhelmed, sensory overloaded, and exhausted Molly. Which means that my kids, specifically the one that has Autism, are feeling all of those same things along with a stressed and sometimes filled-with-the-Christmas-Spirit and other times stressed and cranky mama. In our home, we set our expectations low and our efforts high. Not sure that is healthy, but whatevs.
I have pulled the following tips from my past lessons learned that are logged in the Happy Holidays corner of my mind, and I hope that you find at least a few of them helpful!
-Get there early. We like to go see this huge train exhibit every year in the mall and I finally came to the realization that on weekdays, (that is key), when the doors open at 9am, no one is there. There is no line, there is no noise. It is akin to a private train exhibit for 30 minutes to an hour and it is wonderful.
-Look for and create sensory friendly options. Go see a sensory friendly Santa or gather up some buddies that will pitch in on a private Santa at one of your homes and make it a sensory friendly experience for your child. You can even allow kids to visit in 10 or 20-minute increments to avoid too many people in one place at one time. Better yet, have someone in your life who is particularly jolly dress up and come visit your sensory challenged kiddo.
-Think safe. If you are having friends or family over, give your kiddo a “safe room” where s/he can go for breaks. Make sure that guests know that they aren’t allowed in that room.
-Set your guests’ expectations at an appropriate level. Explain to adults and kids that “these are his/her things, this is his/her safe room, this is our schedule, and we would love to hang out with you when possible”.
-Schedule, schedule, schedule. Stick to a schedule as much as possible, and create a calendar of what the holidays will look like with no school and much more unstructured time. There will be some schedule upsets and some of those things on the calendar won’t happen, but some level of predictability will be very comforting to anyone with special needs, as well as to your neuro-typical kids.
-Think small. Consider caroling in small groups; dining in small groups; going to see Christmas lights in a quiet, small group; gingerbread house making with just siblings and a few friends, or just siblings … or completely alone. Because as sad as it can make us that our kids sometimes want to be alone, it’s important to remember that alone can often mean safe, and good, and happy to them.
-Get some noise cancelling headphones. For the love, get those headphones. Here are our favorite: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000Z31GGE/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
-Religious services. Go to the earlier, less crowded service or just know that Jesus loves you and you don’t really have to go at all on what is sure to be one of the busiest church days of the year.
-Ask. Call ahead when you are making that magical calendar and ask if there is a quieter, slower, less crowded or noisy time to come visit the specific attraction or better yet, if they have a sensory friendly option. Walk up to the front of that Santa line and in the nicest way possible say that your son/daughter has special needs and really wants to see Santa but simply cannot wait through the line. If they say no, very kindly, (you are representing all of us, after all), ask for a supervisor. If the supervisor’s, supervisor’s supervisor says no then go on your merry and magical way and refer to #2 above. Nine times out of ten, I have found someone that will happily help and make our experience joyful and fun.
-Be willing to cancel. There will be a right time and a right place. There really will. It may not be today, and that’s ok. THAT is your holiday mantra, friends. You aren’t alone. Even parents of all neuro-typical children are struggling to keep it all together during the holidays. You simply aren’t alone.
Oh … and order those presents early. Get your cute little Santy Claus tail in gear and get ‘er done. That may be the smartest thing I’ve said. Get it done, get it all wrapped up literally and figuratively, and take care of yourself.