The Mighty Logo

5 Ways to Help a Special Needs Family During the Holiday Season

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

This time of year gets difficult for my family because people invite us to holiday gatherings. Quite frankly I appreciate the invites when I still get them; they show me people still care about us.

In the last year, my son has changed a bit; he’s now obsessive which can make a difficult life more strenuous — especially since he’s nonverbal. When he gets upset, he can’t even tell me what the deal is. He just has to work through it, kicking and screaming, until he’s exhausted and needs a hug. And although people try to understand, it’s impossible for a person without a special needs child to “get it.” So we go through life being a part of the celebration when we can, praying during the times we do participate that we aren’t asked to gather our child and what’s left of our dignity and slink out the door hoping no one will notice us.

So you want to help a special needs family during the holidays? Here are a few things I always find helpful in our holiday insanity:

1. Invite us, but be OK when the answer is no. Even though you really miss your sister or cousin or whoever it is, keep in mind deep down they want to be there. So just be kind and caring when they respectfully decline. You’ve stated that you adore the special needs family member a hundred times, but keep in mind the little meltdowns you may have witnessed might be extremely mild; most likely, no one but immediate family has witnessed an “end all” level meltdown, and they may appreciate your thought from a distance.

2. If you’re asked for a detailed guest list, don’t judge. Parents of special needs children often worry not about the people attending but about the amount of people. My son Keegan loves going to Nana’s house, but if it’s stuffed with 30 people and he has a meltdown, it may get dangerous. We aren’t being jerks when we ask who will be there; we’re just being cautious.

3. If they plan on coming, prepare for just-in-case scenarios. Yay they’re coming! Should I do anything? Hell yes. Even though it isn’t necessary to announce the “autism family” is on the way, do prepare in your mind a nice little something for just-in-case scenarios. This way if a meltdown occurs and they need to restrain their upset child, look around to notice if anyone is staring or totally disgusted. This would be a good time to calmly sashay over to said person and say something like, “I know this may be difficult for you, but their child has [insert special need], and he/ she is just having a difficult time right now. Would you like to come into the kitchen? I will get you a drink.” The person needing to restrain their own child at a party will be forever grateful for this calm step-in.

4. Don’t ever stop inviting us — even though typically if you ask a friend and they always say no, it may make sense to  stop asking. If that friend has a special needs child, please do me the favor of never giving up. There’s a good chance they’ll say no for the rest of their child’s adult life (because being a special needs parent doesn’t stop at 18). But the friend will appreciate being asked because you’re still considering their family. That means a lot to us.

5. If we aren’t invited, tell us why. Even though it sounds harsh, I always appreciate a friend telling me we aren’t invited. There are always times when people don’t want to deal with possible situations, so if you nicely tell us, we may be bummed, but I will still appreciate the honesty.

I wrote this post after my son and I missed my brother-in-law’s birthday on Thanksgiving eve because every time we needed to get in the car, Keegan had a severe screaming fit and would end up with us in full restraint. Sadly, after the third restraint I gave up. But the next morning when I texted “happy thanksgiving, sorry I missed you again,” the response I received was, “no worries I understand and happy thanksgiving.”

We have lots to be grateful for.


This post originally appeared on Stimmy Mama.

Originally published: November 28, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home