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Here's How You Can Support Families of Kids With Disabilities This Holiday Season

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As the holiday season nears, I join the many parents of kids with disabilities who hold their breaths and hope for the best as our children participate in family reunions, large gatherings, holiday parties, school programs and overall festivities. Overstimulation during the holidays can bring on anxiety — for children and parents alike. It happens in our home (there is even increased anxiety over whether a particular child will get enough Barbies for Christmas).

While our family does not participate in all holiday activities, we do host Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings in our home. Since I come from a Mexican family, the more the merrier…except when it’s not so merry. Like when there are children running around the house and the volume level means the noise-canceling headphones need to come out and certain rooms become off limits so my kids can get away when they need to.

Often times, I need my friends and family to come alongside to make the holidays more manageable.

I know I am not the only parent who experiences this, so we reached out to our Mighty parents and asked, “What can friends or family do to help your children and family during the holidays?”

These were their responses:

1. “Calling ahead is better than just dropping by.” — Erik K.

2. “Don’t embarrass him just because he wants to eat nothing but a roll at holiday dinner. He’ll eat later at home when he’s comfortable. Don’t shame him for being in a new place doing something out of his normal schedule.” — Brandi H.

3. “[Shop from our] Amazon wish list for toy ideas. That way my son doesn’t end up receiving a bunch of toys he can’t play with.” — All Things Considered

4. “Please do not be upset if we skip a family event or leave early, I assure you there is a very good reason for our absence and those reasons can vary so much! Be kind and understanding, we need all the support we can get.

Please don’t take offense if my child won’t eat what you put in front of him or her. Because of extreme sensory issues or problems eating our kiddos sometimes just can’t eat what you serve let alone sit at a table for an extended time.

When my child won’t look you in the eye or hold a conversation about the gifts they got or what they asked Santa for, please understand that social interaction is hard and very very overwhelming and finding the right words for them sometimes takes time or just doesn’t happen.

If you or a loved one is on the spectrum read up on what that means. Educate yourself. I have met so many parents that speak on how grandma or grandpa or how other family members are clueless about what being on the spectrum means, so for the sake of you’re relationship with those you love please educate yourself, don’t be afraid to ask questions and be open-minded, and most of all, do not judge or guilt the parent or child.” — Heather D.

5. “Be flexible and understanding! My kiddo might not be able to handle the textures of your usual menu but I don’t mind bringing some food for him so don’t take offense if he won’t try what you’ve made.

If my son isn’t interacting with you it’s not because he ‘doesn’t like you’ it’s because he is overstimulated by the newer environment and may be overwhelmed by all the people. If he tries to go somewhere quiet, don’t make a big deal about it and let him come to you in his own time.

Please don’t take it personally that my child won’t give you hugs or receive kisses. He’s not responsive to it and he has the right to say no when someone touches him in a way he’s not comfortable with. But he will probably give you a high five if you ask for one.

There’s a likely chance we will have to leave early. We can make some efforts to prevent this by not playing loud music or having loud animals near him, but everything could be perfect and we still might have to leave early. Such is our lives! We just want our kiddo to be as happy as possible and we work hard to make that happen. Sometimes that means letting him sit in a new environment with his iPad or spending most the time in a quiet room. I don’t expect anyone to bend over backward to suit our family but you can bet anytime someone puts in an effort it means the whole world to us.” — Jaclyn A.

6. “Offer options for food that you know my child will eat! Don’t make us make an extra stop or remember one more thing!” — Taryn B.

7. “If my child gets agitated or angry, don’t assume you can discipline him like neurotypical children. Try and find out why he is upset to begin with or come get me or call me. He often needs an explanation that is much more detailed than the other children do. Don’t react. Don’t get angry. Be calm. The more agitated you get, the more he’s going to become upset or recluse into himself.

Don’t shame him for not eating all his food. Certain textures of food he won’t even touch, even if he just sees that it looks like a certain texture.

If I leave the room with him don’t take it personally, just know that he’s become overstimulated and needs his space or a safe room.

Don’t try and back up my parenting — I’ve got the situation handled and know what my child needs. He and I do not need your two cents on what might work. Instead, ask how you can help. I might tell you or I might just say I’ll let you know.

Do not tickle or give hugs without asking first! He may get triggered and burst into tears or become angry and yell, ‘Don’t touch me!’

Do not tease him or poke fun. He thinks very literally.

Accept him for who he is. The approach you should take is go with the flow. Always ask first before doing anything. Be gentle.” — Jamie J

8. “Extend us some grace with events. We may arrive late, need to leave early, or not attend.” — Cilla L

9. “Please interact with him. He may not give you the response a neurotypical child will, but he still knows you are there and can hear you. Plus he really enjoys the attention of everyone!” — Lauren W.

10. “Wash your hands. My little one has an immune disorder and it is most important!” — Candice S.

11. “Stay away and reschedule if you have a fever, cold or flu.” — Rachel S.

12. “Don’t say ‘relax!’ as I try to keep my child from touching your things and then say, ‘Oh, he shouldn’t touch that.’ I can either relax or keep him controlled, not both. So then I’m judged in addition to not relaxing.” — Lisa R.

13. “Let us as the parents deal with things. The kids do not need others trying to discipline them, it makes things so much worse. No one understands like his parents.” — Bug B.

14. “Don’t tell my son to ‘eat correctly’ or to ‘eat like a 10-year-old.’ He does the best he can with his silverware. He shouldn’t be uncomfortable to eat in front of family. Don’t shame him for being covered in food at the end of the meal. His tiny mouth and inability to open his mouth wide make it impossible for him to leave the dinner table with a clean face.

Please don’t be angry if we cannot make it to your event. Things can change very suddenly for us!” — Shannon A.

15. “Let go of perfection…cause I sure have! My kid won’t be in any ‘Sunday best’ clothes. He won’t be sitting quietly on your couch without a screen. He won’t only take one treat. He won’t sit for his meal. And chances are, he probably won’t eat what you prepared. But he will be fun and funny and enthusiastic. He will want to take part and get some love and attention from you. He will talk to you boisterously and ask you to play a game with him. I encourage you to stop what you’re doing and just listen.” — Ann W.

16. “Include my child!” — Eliza S.

Thank you to our Mighty parents who shared their tips with us. What would you add? Let us know in the comments.

Getty image by DGLimages

Originally published: November 21, 2017
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