Making Christmas Memorable for your Special Needs Child
Families of children with special needs don’t celebrate the holidays like everyone else. As much as we’d like to countdown to the wonderful time spent with family, we just can’t enjoy the events in the same way. Our children require extra attention and extra preparation that can drain us before the holidays even begin.
The usual hustle and bustle of the holidays may easily set-off our children with special needs. They might find the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays too much to take in at once. They may find crowds (and the loud noises that come with them) overwhelming. They might also find a change in their daily routine/ sleep schedule difficult to overcome.
Children with motor delays may require additional equipment to be transported from place to place. And, children with feeding difficulties may even need a special meal to be prepared ahead of time. All of these seemingly “little things” can easily add up to great stress for parents.
For many years, I felt anxious with the coming of the holidays. After spending a month anticipating the holidays, I found myself unable to enjoy the celebrations at all. In fact, it got to a point where I outright dreaded them. My son felt the tension and I probably spoiled matters for him as a result.
I had lost touch with the meaning of Christmas.
I didn’t feel the spirit.
And, I certainly did not reflect the joy that was expected at this time of year.
I decided two years ago to take control of this festive season. Bowing out of the holidays is not possible without offending family. Instead, I now make sure that we celebrate Christmas the entire month of December. By the time the 24th and 25th roll around, I am so full of the message of Christmas, I am not disappointed if things don’t turn out how I anticipate them.
If you experience the same apprehension at this time of year, here are some ideas to make homeschooling leading up to Christmas special for your child and family.
1- Bring on the magic. Beginning on the first of the month, take out the Christmas books, decoration, and music. By bringing out holiday-themed items, your mood will naturally lift, as will your child’s.
2- Share a story. Read from your collection of Christmas books on a daily basis. You could either begin or end the day with a Christmas story. I do both, but I also introduce a book after dinner – just to make it extra special.
3- Focus on holiday words. In order to prepare your child for the big celebration, target theme words he’ll hear on those days. You can highlight nouns (gift, Baby Jesus, Christmas tree), verbs (open, tear, eat, sing), and exclamatory words (Ho-Ho-Ho!).
4- Advent calendar. Advent calendars are wonderful for several reasons. For one, you can highlight the numbers for 25 days. Secondly, you help develop anticipation in a visual fashion for your child. No matter the design of the calendar, ensure to include a daily prayer on a strip of paper hidden somewhere within.
5- Advent candles. Begin dinner each night by lighting a candle in an advent wreath and saying a little prayer. The flickering light brings peace to the table. Your child will be instantly drawn to the magic of the season.
6– Sing carols. Have a series of carols ready for reference – either on cards or in books. I pull out my book of carols and have my son select a page for us to sing based on his preferred image. He participates by making choices, and I belt out the best version of the carol I can.
7- Drive around to behold the magic of the lights. Experience some holiday light therapy by driving around different neighborhoods a couple of nights per week. You can discuss the colors and sights from the warmth of your car.
8– Be grateful and pray. Give thanks for the peaceful days leading up to Christmas and pray for some gentle moments amongst family and friends.
Wishing you a blessed holiday season.
What are your family’s challenges throughout the holidays? How do you overcome them?