Making This Quiet Holiday Season a Blessing for Neurodiverse Families
Parties can be a challenge for some people. I include myself in this group. Parties are noisy, awkward, sometimes pressure-filled (drinking) and sometimes stuffy. It is my least favorite way to communicate and gather with people. Meeting each person for a nanosecond to learn a little bit of fluff and having no time to really connect leaves me feeling cheated. I find it exhausting. I also feel like I have to keep my game face on as I am drained of energy and enthusiasm for the occasion. Can you relate?
Now, imagine you have sensory issues. Imagine you are sensitive to sound and touch. Hugs, laughter, chewing noises, dishes, barking dogs, crying babies, dress-up clothes and music all become stressors. If this was you, how would you handle yourself? Would you just leave or would you try to follow through on your promise to be there? It’s a tough decision.
What if you are a child and you can’t make this decision to leave as you are at the mercy of your parents? The parents have expectations such as you greeting the hostess (who hugs everyone), sitting quietly at the table with clinking dishes, keeping your shoes on that are pinching your feet and not covering your ears when it gets loud. We don’t want to insult the hostess! Now, any number of things could occur in this situation. There could be a meltdown, the child could try to bury themselves in their parent’s shoulders to quiet the noise, or they could try to leave on their own. There are many possible things that could go wrong. But there are some things that can happen to help ensure better results.
Before you even leave the house, be sure to let your child wear comfortable clothing. There are plenty of options out there that still give the appearance of dressing up. Secondly, call the host/hostess ahead of time and ask them not to hug. It’s so much easier to have that conversation ahead of the event rather than face the embarrassment in the given moment. I know I don’t always have clever ways to advocate for my son in every given situation. And like you, I don’t want to seem rude. While you are on the phone with them, ask if there will be a children’s table and if you may sit with them. Believe it or not, sometimes those tables are the quietest part of the room! We grown-ups can be rowdy! And finally, ask if there is a safe and quiet space that you and your child can retreat to when things get too stimulating. If the hostess disapproves of these questions, don’t attend. Fortunately, most people prefer to be helpful.
OK. So now let’s talk about you. This is probably going to stretch you. Your friends will be having fun while you hide out with your child. At that very moment, I recommend you take a moment to express gratitude. It will give you perspective and help you see the value in getting that special time with your child. You are expressing love and protection and you are validating their needs and feelings. In turn, you become the super parent and their hero! This is so much more rewarding than a glass of Prosecco. You can drink that anytime! And sometimes the unexpected happens too and another child arrives seeking the same escape and frees you up to go be with your friends. It’s not all bad!
Now, let’s talk about the present situation with COVID. Parties are not allowed. Trust me, there are people who are doing happy dances about this! Traditions have to be set aside for a while. However, this really does open opportunities for your family. When preexisting traditions decide how your holidays will occur, there’s little room for exploring new options. This is your year!
Gather the kids and ask them what they’d like to do, eat, make, explore. Can you cook together? Can you make a blanket fort! Yes and yes, and make a mess. Show them that making a mess is fun and has rewards at the end such as pie. Have a slumber party! Craft something and do your kids a favor — don’t make your craft look so perfect! It’s good for them to see that you face challenges too! Is your ego chirping at you? Are you the kind that loves to be the best crafter in the room? Please tell your ego that you are being the best parent in the room and this is the way to do it.
As a result of pivoting this year and sacrificing some of your personal expectations, you will create memorable moments for everyone. And for the child that hates parties, you will be making their day!
Photo provided by contributor.