April works full time in higher education balancing her time between her special needs son, handsome husband, elderly mother, and new baby coming in May 2014. She has a background in theatre, film, and television but somehow stumbled into the educational field. She loves spending time with her family, dreaming of the beach and organizing her house.

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Special Needs: Surviving Family Holidays

Whenever most people think of the holiday season, they think of family.  Family can be either blood related or people who are pretty much family.  With family comes a whole host of personalities and viewpoints on how things should be done.  This is especially true when it comes to children and how they should be raised.  It’s also even more difficult when it comes to dealing with special needs children.  If your child doesn’t “look” like he/she could be special needs, be prepared to deflect their comments.

When dealing with family, you will have to decide how best to handle their questions and “observations.”  As the parent, you see the day to day meltdowns and behaviors that may not be present during their visit.  You also have the IEPs and doctor evaluations that they aren’t aware of or even care to validate.  I have found that even family members who claim to be “experts” or “knowlegdeable” in regards to special needs children can be extremely naive and hurtful in their dealings with you and your child.

In order to make it less stressful for you, I highly recommend having the holidays at your home.  Your child will be in their own environment and function a little better since you are keeping closer to their routines.  If you can’t, then you should do your best to keep on your child’s eating and sleeping schedule as much as possible.  It’s hard to do while traveling, but you will be thankful for the fewer meltdowns.  Sometimes staying in a hotel helps with setting boundaries for your family.  It’s not cheap, but it might give you the peace you need to enjoy the holidays.

If you have the holiday celebration at your home, you can put your child to bed and feed them when they need to eat or bathe them as necessary.  Your guests will have to get by without you for the short time period.  It’s harder when your child is the only child there and that happens to some families.  The family celebration that doesn’t have other children present is sometimes harder than those with children.  The adults haven’t had children around for years and you can’t focus or do anything to help them.  Sometimes people’s feelings are hurt because you have to focus on your child.  It makes it a very complicated experience.

Prepare your family members by letting them know that you have to take care of your child and let them know of any special routines that you need to do.  Maybe suggest that they read your child a book at bedtime or have them help with the activity.  By including them, they can get a glimpse into how you take care of your child.  By explaining ahead of time that they can’t expect your full attention, you will save yourself heartache.  They may not understand, but at least you told them beforehand.

Be prepared for suggestions and unsolicited advice.  You can either say “thank you” then move on or let them know that although you appreciate their suggestions, you prefer to handle things your way.  Some people just give advice and expect you to follow whatever they say.  It’s frustrating and hard to deal with those types of people.  But know that you are doing what is absolutely best for your child and they can’t force you to do it their way.

Also, be prepared for family members who can’t handle how you raise your child and they may get upset with you.  They disagree with everything you do and talk about you behind your back.  Sometimes they get so upset that they don’t want to be a part of your life.  That is painful and sad, but sometimes necessary in order to preserve your family’s happiness.

By planning ahead with talking to your family about what to expect for the holidays and including them in the care or activities with your child, you can navigate the sometimes tricky holiday family gatherings and have a wonderful time.   Happy Holidays!

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