We all know the holiday hoopla is fast approaching. Some of us look forward to it, but for many it brings a mixture of depression and anxiety, filling us until it’s all over and we can say it’s two-thousand-fourteen.
No matter where we find ourselves, many of us will be visiting family or friends during the holidays, and some of us will be playing host. This can create added stress onto school activities, social gatherings, special events, the present parade, cooking, and shopping. So what can you do to make that visit with Granny Beatrice go better? Communicate.
What do your children need? How do your children act? What will you need to do that’s different than other families? What do you need your family to do for you?
Explanations go a long way to help our family and friends understand what your child will be doing while spending time together, it will help them understand the special treatment or things your child needs. When we got together with family for Christmas one year, our son was fascinated with the string of lights and ornaments on the tree. Our extended family all looked like wide-eyed monkeys on adrenaline when he stood close to the tree and touched the bright, beaming lights or the sparkling ornaments. He has Autism. I explained what was going on, it calmed them down a little, and I think understanding why he wasn’t leaving the tall, sensory overloading Christmas tree alone helped. It was a starting point.
There have been situations we’ve needed to head off before we arrive at someone’s house. When our son is outside his environment and we can’t go outdoors, it’s best to play movies he likes. This is a little bothersome around the holidays because of football games, but they were able to deal with some missed field goals while Lightning McQueen racing across Route 66.
That year I sent an email to all who would be there explaining that he would be watching movies, we also added that he doesn’t do this at home (because we wanted to avoid any judgement up front). You can gauge your family and determine what needs to be said and what doesn’t. I don’t condone extended t.v. time for Autistic kids, but if we ALL want to enjoy the holiday, our child needs to be content, and if movies do the trick, okay by me.
In the past, my daughter has struggled with attachment issues and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. We’d had experience visiting extended family members, and a a few things came up that we wanted to avoid before we arrived. Those were that she couldn’t handle being told something and then having it changed, she also tended to sabotage anything fun. We kindly explained this to our family.
We asked they not tell her about any activities we were going to do. For example, please don’t say you’re going to decorate a gingerbread house before you realize there won’t be time to do so. Don’t say you’ll go sledding before you find out that the child didn’t bring any snow clothes. This can be true for any child, but the outcome can be much worse for a child who has attachment issues.
We also avoided telling her of anything we planned to do. Number one, because anything can get cancelled for numerous reasons, and two, she would sabotage anything. To her it was a test to see if we would still do that “special” thing with her (equaled love in her mind) even if she misbehaved.
Our family is learning, but our daughter has also healed significantly. This year Justin and I were talking about what we would do when we went to see some family. We were trying to be secretive, and of course our daughter wanted to know what we were saying. I thought she could handle it at this stage, so I told her we were probably going to go to the Aquarium. She was really excited, she’d been wanting to go back for a couple years. Then I got a text from my dad, they were thinking of going to the zoo since it was a such beautiful weather. I cringed, I had already told her what we were doing, would she be able to handle the change of plans? I broke the news to her, I used some paradoxical parenting, something I rarely do anymore. I said, “You’re going to get really mad when I tell you this. It’s okay, you can yell and stomp your feet.” She smiled and said she wouldn’t. I told her the new plan and she proved that she has come a long way, she said, “Okay.”
This year we will be having another friendly conversation with family about their expectations of our daughter's obedience. Although she is doing awesome, she’s still a child, and she’s stinkin’ smart. She knows when she can get away with ignoring someone’s request. When we aren’t around, and even when we’re near, family doesn’t expect her to be polite or follow their requests (many times they aren’t formulated as requests, but as, “I think your mom wants you to wash your hands.” It needs to be, “Wash your hands please.”) I know, it puts pressure on Grandma and Grandpa or Aunts and Uncles to lay down the law, but if they don’t let her know they expect good behavior, she’ll push it. She also has a certain little thing called a strong will.
Other families deal with this same scenario. A family I know went to visit Grandma, and while Grandma was preparing a pickle tray, their son, Caleb grabbed a pickle and said, “My pickle.” When your child has attachment issues and other diagnoses added on top, this behavior isn’t shocking at all, but this wasn’t something Caleb would have done at home. He was making attachments and his behavior was improving, but when expectations were lowered, he still struggled some.
Being around others who don’t have the same expectations we do can sometimes cause our children to backslide. It’s a training process both for our children and for those who are frequently involved in our life. They need to know what we expect and be willing to back us up.
These conversations we’ve had with family have dangled between congenial and heated. The outcome will depend on how you approach them, the tone, and words you use, so contemplate those three factors. It will also depend on your family and friends. Are they judgmental or accepting? Do they have experience with special needs?
Let’s review some questions to ask yourself when considering what to share:
Does your child do things that are different than others?
Does your child have needs that are special?
What will you need when you visit family or friends for the holidays, or act as host?
Do you need family/friends to avoid saying certain things?
I hope this helps you to have a better holiday with your family and friends!
Tracy writes for her blog Lovin' Adoptin': Supporting adoptive parents and families living with Autism. You can follow Lovin’ Adoptin’ by “liking” the Facebook page and follow Tracy on Twitter and Pinterest.