It is another holiday season, full of excitement, tradition, and lots of relatives. Even the most calm of us feel somewhat overwhelmed. But what about our children with developmental and behavioral challenges? They don’t have the decades of experience to fall back on in order to figure out how to deal with all the changes from their routine. So how can you help them?
The most important thing to do is create frequent breaks from the excitement. You may need to do a team approach of one parent/adult taking your child to a quieter place, even outside for a short walk whenever you notice any change in normal behavior. This could be increased activity that is not focused on an activity – kind of like seeing a ping-pong ball bouncing around a room. It might be increased clinginess. Or he might get more intrusive in your conversations and be more argumentative.
Traditions are important but since many of them are generations old, the meaning may not be obvious. This can be very confusing to children with developmental and behavioral challenges who need to understand the concrete reasons behind expectations and actions. You need to take the time to research how a tradition got started and why each part was important to the people who started it. You then need to make it understandable to your child at their level of understanding. You may also need to allow them to be exempt from some aspects initially so that they can get comfortable over several years.
Having to meet and get close to the many relatives that they may not see for the rest of the year, or at least not all at once can be very stressful. Preparation is very important to keep the meltdowns to a minimum. Having a photo album of as many of the relatives as possible that can be reviewed frequently before the events will help. Making sure that the relatives respect your child’s needs, be it not requiring hugs, no unexpected touches, or providing those times away without negative comments about behavior are also essential. It may also be helpful to develop a small booklet of your child’s strengths and sensitivities. The more they understand the “whys” of your child’s behaviors the more likely that they will learn to love your child.
Your child is part of your family. He/she will learn to handle special events when given the time develop a tolerance to the changes and an appreciation of the traditions. It will likely take years but all of development takes years to decades, so there is no reason to try to force it. Enjoy each event to the level your child can participate.