In our daily lives, we accept the quirkiness of our special needs kids. But when the holidays roll around some parents strive to present their child in the best possible light, which translates to what other people deem appropriate behavior but is a foreign concept to our special one. You have the rest of the year to work out your child’s idiosyncrasies. Don’t torture you or your child by trying to live up to someone else’s misguided notion of normalcy. You’ll find the holidays much more enjoyable if you just embrace the quirkiness.
If you have a picky or sensory eater on your hands the holidays are not the time to try new foods. If you cannot get the menu ahead of time be prepared by secretly taking a favorite food in with you. To avoid, setting a very bad habit I advise not letting your child see the favorite food, lest she start wanting to transport food into restaurants and such. If the preferred food happens to be a favorite among children in general, it’s always best to pack enough so no child is left out. Avoiding a meltdown for your child b setting off a tantrum in another is not good for anyone.
If you have a middle of the road kiddo, who is doing well with new food introductions and seems to be handling the day well, go ahead and try a new food. Just know her limitations and don’t force the issue to the point of a meltdown. Once your kiddo has a meltdown you probably will too and the rest of the family will likely follow suit.
Have a “safe” quiet place in mind, before you arrive. Even on his best days, my Asperger’s kid cannot tolerate crowds for extended amounts of time. To avoid him locking himself in the bathroom for hours we had a plan in place. He knew where he could retreat to when needed. We reviewed the plan before we arrived. He could use the isolation place but he couldn’t remain in it for the duration. In the beginning, he spent more time in seclusion that socializing. But as he got older and more confident he spent more time in the mix of things. Now, at 23 he rarely bolts from the social scene.
If you’re dealing with severe sensory issues you might consider taking a favorite blanket or sheet which can be used to cover himself, including his head if necessary, to cut down on sensory stimulation. For young child, I recommend fidgets to help them self-calm. A fidget or small favorite toy kept in his pocket is a good calming tool. It takes only his hand in his pocket to get a steady stream of reassurance. Of course, stuffed animals, dolls, and other treasured toys or pillows can have the same impact.
If noise is the spark to your child’s sensory wildfire, try taking noise-reducing headphones. Classical music has been proven to have a calming effect. If you don’t have a CD player with classical CD’s set up a Pandora station on your phone. Show your child how to thumbs up or down the songs in order to achieve the perfect blend for your child.
My son Colton could never get enough tactile stimulation. He would lick the tips of his fingers before touching anything in order to increase the sensation. Not only was this super gross, but unhealthy as well. Sitting on the floor at home and rubbing his hands as hard as he could against the carpet was one thing. But essentially, licking other people and things in public was quite another. I nailed a small piece of carpet to each side of a thin block of wood. He carried that with him and when he needed stimulation he rubbed it between his palms. A much more hygienic way to increase tactile stimulation.
It’s all about controlled chaos. You may not be able to fully prevent your child’s meltdowns but a little pre-planning can lessen the chance of one occurring or reduce its severity. The goal is to gently prod them into new and difficult social scenes but in a way that is manageable for them. This is not the time to worry about Aunt Becky will view your parenting skills, or what Uncle Frank will think when you ax his desire to have a tickling tournament with your child. This is the time you do what’s best for your child.