We asked special needs moms to share their personal experience regarding holidays and their family dynamics. Together, they share their stories, as well as some tips to staying sane this holiday season.
Surviving the Holidays, One Deep Breath at a Time.
by: Holly Terei, Jenna Chung & Katie Braselton
Ahh, the H O L I D A Y S !
I can't help but feel this bubbling of joy and anxiety rise upon the first listening of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." But to be completely honest, there was a time when the anxiety far out weighed to joy. The early days of my son's ASD diagnosis and the thought of being around those unfamiliar to his ways STRESSED ME OUT. Would someone say something that I would obsess over? What's if everyone just pretends like he isn't event here? Would I be happier if everyone desired a schooling in stimming behavior at the Thanksgiving table, or simply pretend his autism didn't exist?
The truth is, much of my anxiety and stress came from my own overwhelming feelings. As the most text book a-type there is, I struggled accepting that I cannot control how people, even family, respond to my son's autism. While he was happy, and enjoying this time of year with as much delight as my other children, I was wallowing in my fear that he was being misunderstood, judged, and even avoided. I can't tell you exactly when my turning point was. Maybe it was when I became most comfortable in our family's dynamic and what we bring to the table every holiday season, both metaphorically and realistically. This is who we are. And its OK.
I would like to offer up a piece of advice to families struggling during this time of year: Don't let things you can not control steal your joy. Your child is gonna stim, flap, jump, make loud noises and maybe knock a few things over. I promise you, it's gonna be ok. Even if he only eats a mound of mashed potatoes during Thanksgiving and Aunt Bertha gives you the side-eye, oh well! Your child is happy, and you should be happy too.
-Holly Terei, Wife, Mother, Author, Small Business Owner and Autism Advocate
Holidays can be the most wonderful or the most terrible time of the year. Everyone’s expectations and routines change which can be a bad combination for special needs kids. In our house we do our best to stick with our natural flow. This is the first year, after years of progress, I have a tree decorated the way I want and have faith that it may actually stay that way. When ours were little the Christmas tree ornaments triggered OCD. It wasn’t worth it. And we still don’t put presents out until the night before Christmas. Since our children don’t clearly understand the concept of time, they have no idea why we put presents out not to open them.
This doesn’t mean that we are miserable and do nothing. We have always thoroughly enjoyed decorating (and eating) gingerbread houses. We are attached to certain Christmas movies that we watch every year. We hang lights and have about every Disney character in Christmas attire. My kids still don’t like being surprised on Christmas, so we go over their list many times and I only repeat what I know they will get, no matter how much they mention other things. Their expectations need to be prepared for reality. Christmas morning meltdowns are still common but we have learned to expect it, and that it doesn’t mean failure, it just means we prepare ourselves for the let down.
When it comes to extended family and hectic schedules we do what we can. Not everyone understands the way our family functions, and they won’t because they only see a glimpse of it a few times a year. Do what you know is right and only feel like you have to answer sincere questions. We have learned that traditions are ours to make, and expectations are the only thing that makes us fail. This year we will be attempting a visit to a sensory friendly Santa, and a sensory friendly Nutcracker performance. Going in we are fully aware that 1 of our 3 will likely avoid Santa and we are prepared to accept an whatever outcome we get. We may get a picture we may not. I am not sure what will happen at the Nutcracker, but even if we leave early and end up hyperventilating on our way to Target to shop for blind bags, we will be watching our favorite Christmas movie on the way.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed, when they become painful we need to stop and look at why are traditions aren’t making us happy.
-Jenna Chung, Wife, Mother, Full-time Student, and Part-time Childcare Worker
It’s the season of counting your blessings. Every year at this time, my mind gets overwhelmed with the list of tasks to complete such as shopping, family gatherings, church events, both boys’ birthdays, and so on. Adding extra activities on top of our oldest son’s therapy and school schedules often leads to so much stress. It helps me when I remember to take a deep breath and remember that my son is happy regardless of how many social events we attend or what presents he gets or who he sees through the holidays. His personality and infectious smile remind me to slow down and enjoy each moment as his childhood is racing by.
I thank God for my boy’s laid back attitude, his laughter, his personal ways of showing affection, and his love. He has made so much progress in his lifetime and makes me super proud each day. Every weekend after Thanksgiving, we go pick out our Christmas tree from the farm. He loves the stroller ride around the tree farm and engages in flicking the tree limbs once we stand it up in the house. He absolutely loves the lights on the tree and watching the ornaments swing back and forth as he swats them.
Our experiences look a little different on the outside, but our hearts are full on the inside.
-Katie Braselton Wife, Mother, Media Specialist, JV Girls Soccor Coach
Have something you would like to share that may be helpful to others this holiday season? Email us your thoughts firstname.lastname@example.org