Surviving the holidays with a special needs child

  • Written by Amy Sabol, Special to The Weekly

With the holidays right around the corner it is important to remember the families in our community raising special needs children.  For these unique families simple things that we all take for granted, such as shopping trips and traditional holiday events, can be at times very overwhelming and seemingly impossible.

As the parent of a six-year-old with autism the holiday season has been trial by fire for us, but with each passing year we are finally starting to pick up a few useful ideas.

The big event last year was a trip to a nearby tree farm to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. Because of my son Daniel’s autism, he is very sensitive and reacts unpredictably to loud noises, and in last year’s case, we had failed to recall the power saws they use at the farm.  My little guy spent the entire time screaming, covering his ears, trying to lie down and hide his face on the muddy ground and climbing up my leg looking for relief.

The experience was a total bust. By the time we had the tree tied to the top of our van, even the Grinch himself would have been ashamed of our attitudes.

Ever determined, we will once again venture back to the farm, but we are going to do things a bit differently.  It is tremendously important to us that our son gets to experience as many of our family adventures as possible.

Of course, being one of four siblings and unable to express what he is especially interested in, he gets dragged along on a lot of outings. I understand that his screaming and trying to climb my leg was a wild attempt to tell me that Christmas tree farms were not his thing, but we are a family that loves our adventures and I am still going to give it one more go.  I have a couple of reasons for this.

For one thing, Daniel is keen on repeating the word tree lately and as any special needs parent can contest, if your child expresses an interest in something you bend over backwards to accommodate it.  Furthermore, I feel that his being able to see where the tree came from and the process involved in bringing it into our home is important.  I understand that this will not explain why there is suddenly a huge pine tree in the middle of our living room when he’s not permitted to bring in so much as a branch, but he will at least know where this big tree came from.

So what will I do differently? To start, I will bring along the construction grade ear muffs that I bought Daniel for last year’s Fourth of July parade.  They seemed effective at canceling out the fire engine sirens so I am hoping they will put a damper on the chain saws.  I am also going to bring along his favorite treat, fruit snacks, and hand him one out of my pocket every few minutes to keep him feeling like there’s something worth while going on here.

We are not going to be picky about a tree; I am happy to take whatever we can grab.  Truth be told, they are all exquisite at this farm.  We will make things short but sweet.

Last not least, we will bring two cars just in case.  A back-up plan that allows me to leave with Daniel while our other children finish the outing is always the ideal.

If my plan does not work, then my son and I will stay home next year and bake cookies while the rest of the troop venture out for a tree.  More accurately, I will bake cookies and Daniel will throw flour passionately into the air and watch it slowly sprinkle down, dusting the kitchen making it look like a winter wonderland. You see he can be very festive in his own way.

My advice to parents of little ones like mine is keep trying.  Do not let one failed experience stop you from giving the same adventure one more go.

Whether it is a trip to the grocery store or a day at the farm, put as much planning and strategizing into the event as possible and know that although our little ones can not always express appropriate excitement or appreciation, I believe that they are truly happy when they get to be just one of the kids.

Woodinville is home to over 2500 children with varying degrees of special needs. Please remember to have a little extra patience with these families and their children during this busy time of year and know that an understanding smile goes a long way.

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