The Lesson I Learned When Our Family Opted Out of Holiday Parties


Holidays used to be a challenge for our special needs family. My wife and I have two boys, Peter and Daniel, aged 17 and 15. Dan is autistic and nonverbal. Years ago, my wife and I made the decision to no longer go from home to home trying to see everyone for the holidays. What is often meant to be a fun and relaxing tradition with relatives was stressful for our son and a challenge to plan. For the weeks leading up to the holidays, we would have discussions, checklists, plans, backup plans and worry all the way to the party.

So instead, we opted out. We decided we were going to stay at home and have Dan in his most comfortable environment instead of going to another’s home. This decision would help alleviate many of the challenges we faced as a family. As for our other family members, we decided if we were not going to go to their home, we would instead have a “Holiday Open House” and invite everyone to come to our home. We called them and said something like, “If you can make it, great. If not, no biggie. No pressure.” When we did this, something amazing happened. Everyone came to us. As I look back on the last 10-plus years of my life, I found I have consistently underestimated the amount of support available to us.

This year will be our 10th year of hosting the holidays. I am so grateful for our loving and understanding family. They support us, love Dan immeasurably and don’t judge our methods. What was a family decision to help our son years ago is now our family tradition. At our party, Dan often hangs in his room, comes down periodically to see who is here and check on the festivities. And as the years have gone on, he has gotten more into it, coming down more frequently and hanging out with the guests. The difference today is that when he has had enough, he goes to his room for some quiet or to be more in control. During the party, family filter in and out of his room to see him, play with him, or just to get some one-on-one Dan time.

Some of the great things my wife does to make this a fun day include a (heated) trivia contest, a “guessing jar” of candy where the attendees guess the number of pieces, and the wildest “White Elephant” exchange in history. All contests have small fun gifts, and I am always as surprised as others to see what they are. As for me, I make it my goal to provide a huge holiday meal and channel my inner chef.

In looking back, this decision has helped us be more aware of the opportunities and support we have. At times, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and think we alone must solve every challenge in our child’s life. This experience and many others have taught me that when we let go of how things “should be” and realize we don’t have to do it alone, the possibility of something better always presents itself. Funny enough, what was once a stressful decision for my wife and I has ended up being one of the greatest Christmas gifts I ever received: a change in perspective.

My hope for the readers of this article is if you have a child with special needs in your family, that this year you receive the same gift I did.

Image via Contributor.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Costco to Host Quiet Shopping Event for Those on the Autism Spectrum

Costco becomes the latest company to offer a sensory-friendly shopping event geared towards those on the autism spectrum. Read the full version of Costco to Host Quiet Shopping Event for Those on the Autism Spectrum.
child playing outdoors in pilot outfit among fall leaves

When My Son on the Autism Spectrum Told Me He Didn't Want to Be 'Special'

I’ll never forget the day my son came to me and said he didn’t want to be “special,” he just wanted to be “normal.” I was so blindsided by it I didn’t know how to respond at first. I asked him to elaborate on it, and he told me everyone’s response to him not being able [...]
Blurred photograph of pedestrians walking on street

Taking Pride in My Autism

As a child, and well into my 20s, I’d become “overexcited,” spinning in circles on the hardwood living room floor in front of my parents, flapping my hands with excitement, dancing in circles, sliding side-to-side. I’d scream and cry when certain sounds came on the TV, and have meltdowns when my shoes didn’t feel right [...]
a mother holding her son

The Fears — and Hopes — I Experience as the Parent of a Child on the Autism Spectrum

I’m scared. There I said it. I’m the mother of a 5-year-old boy, Mason, who has autism spectrum disorder. Mason is beautiful and wonderful in so many ways. I try to come off strong and spend every day of my life fighting for him. But every day on the inside, fear eats me alive. “But [...]