To the Special Needs Family Who Just Can’t Do Christmas This Year

little girl frowning in front of christmas tree

Here’s a message for all the parents of special needs kids who just can’t manage the Christmas traditions and stress: It’s OK. Skip it.

We all have different levels of “must dos” every day. Maybe you feel like you HAVE to do the dishes before you can go to bed, or make the kids’ lunches for tomorrow, or straighten up the toys, or call your mom (you should probably call your mom). Some of us are good at letting things slide and not getting too stressed, and some of us, well, some of us sweat the small stuff on a pretty regular basis.

But for us parents of special needs kids, especially kids with sensory impairments, we’re generally prepared to put our kids’ needs first. We might skip vacuuming if we know it’ll send our child into hysterics to hear the vacuum cleaner, for example, or maybe find a different time to go to the store for bread and eggs than right after school when we know it’ll be busiest and lead to sensory overload. We mold our lives around our children and we change our plans to fit their needs.

Sometimes you have to do what's best for you and your child, not what's best for everybody else

But you know what? Many of us are not good at dropping the “must dos” and letting our children guide us during the holidays.

  • Sitting on Santa’s lap? Of course! We NEED to go to the mall to get that horrible picture of our child screaming at a terrified man sporting a fake white beard.
  • Wrapping presents? Check! Even though my child has difficulty opening boxes and will find the wrapping paper frustrating.
  • Evening holiday party at school? Count us in! Sure, my child will be asleep before we even get there, will cry through the sing-a-long and then be a zombie at school the next day, but we wouldn’t miss it for the world!

Why do we do this to ourselves during the holiday season? Because we feel obligated to provide a specific store-bought and pre-packaged experience for our kids. You know the Christmas you see in commercials? The tree, the hot coco, the twinkling lights and fire in the hearth? Yeah, that one. Our kids deserve to be a part of that too and we so desperately want to give it to them.

I have to remind myself that I’m not a bad parent if my son doesn’t experience the traditional Christmas. His happiness isn’t based on tradition, but on being a part of activities that have meaning and are accessible to him.

And here’s another point that is harder for me to remember: I am also allowed to skip parts of the holiday cheer if it makes life easier for me. For example, sending out Christmas cards every year was always such a chore. Finding the time to stay up late and write in the cards and address the envelopes was difficult, especially since sleep is a pretty precious commodity in our house. So I stopped. I’d rather sleep.

You can too! I give you permission to make the holidays work around your schedule and adapt to your child’s needs.

  • Only participate in holiday traditions that make you happy or have special meaning to your family
  • Don’t feel obligated to buy a ton of presents for your child if they aren’t the sort of kid who is particularly interested in toys
  • Consider giving your child an experience gift instead of presents (we’re planning a quick Christmas trip to an indoor water park this year)
  • Find ways to make gift wrapping accessible with gift bags instead of wrapping paper
  • Find ways to make family get togethers less overwhelming for your child by keeping guest lists small or visits short
  • Most importantly… DON’T FEEL BAD about not providing the “traditional” experience. Your child will be happier if you focus on what they need and will enjoy! And they’ll also be happier with a less stressed-out parent!
To the Special Needs Family Who Just Can't Do Christmas This Year

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