Tagged "special needs meltdown"


How we deal with a special needs child on Thanksgiving

Posted by Deborah Grauzam on

Raise your hand if you cannot believe we are one day away from Thanksgiving, the official unofficial beginning of the holiday season.

I feel like I just shut my door at the end of Halloween and then … BAM, we are talking turkey, stuffing, days off and then ... gulp ... Christmas.

I try to remember what the holidays were like before we had our beautiful Elizabeth and I simply cannot. I try to remember what it was like before we had to wonder if the noises, lights, tastes, crowds and more, would make a fun time not so fun. And, again, I simply cannot. I think we have been on this journey with Elizabeth for so long that those previous times are kind of like in a vault somewhere in my mind. So as much as Thanksgiving can stress the most even-keeled of us, add in the challenges that are unique to our special children and like a good recipe for stuffing, you have yourself a recipe for a challenging day.

Think about it: the Thanksgiving holiday arrives just about the time the Halloween candy is still mostly uneaten, the leaves are still on the trees (it is Ohio) and the weather is kind of cool, not cold yet. See where am I going with this? There is no screaming announcement that this holiday is coming. It sort of creeps in as we start to see Christmas trees appearing in our stores and then it is THERE!!! Not only is it there suddenly, it is not typically a holiday that you can sort of attend.

- I mean on July 4th, you can go or not go to fireworks.

- On Easter, you can attend a nice dinner or schedule a lunch or brunch.

- But not for Thanksgiving!!! It is the big meal that makes it the very holiday it is. For those of you thinking “No, Michele, it is about giving thanks for all your blessing,” I will say “That is so very true and something never forgotten about the holiday.” But I am seeing it from the pragmatic point of view of how to help our children enjoy this holiday as best as they can. With all this being said, here are my thoughts on how to make Thanksgiving the best you can for your family and your special child.

It is ok to sigh first

I give total permission for any of us to simply sigh and feel all that we feel upon realizing that Thanksgiving is here. By that I mean: feel what you feel even if it is worry, dread or borderline panic or maybe simple joy. Feel it, do not deny it. I spent so many years pretending I was okay. I would squish down feelings of panic or sadness and pretend. How unfair to all. Me, my family, my husband and all those family members. Those same family members who could have supported us in these tough times. So feel it, talk about it, and lean on those who are there for you. You will feel so much less alone.

Make your plans

After you have allowed yourself the time to feel, now comes the time to make some plans. So many of us have the traditions that hold true no matter what. So know your families plans that lay before you. Do you have to be at Aunt Martha’s at 2:00 and your Godmother’s house for dessert at 5:00? And then somewhere in there you have to stop and say hello to your Uncle? Yes, those are the kind of schedules that, even as I write this, I have to stop and breathe. So as you look at the Thanksgiving holiday, truly think: “Can we do it all? Should we do it all?” and “How do we handle the things we cannot do?

I offer out maybe you can do it all, but will it be too much for your child? Will one successful dinner be better than several complete meltdowns?

I think that having a child with special needs should allow you to put aside the “shoulds” in these situations and do the best you can do. Hey, maybe all will be wonderful that day and you can do it all. But why not be honest with everyone beforehand and tell them you will try your best and then feel no guilt.

Bring on the reinforcements

In this case I am not talking about a troop of soldiers. I am talking about things.

A DVD player and their favorite movies. Trust me, nothing is more scary to a mom desperately looking for a favorite TV show at a relatives’ house, than to find that they cancelled cable the week before and all you can put on is either an info-medical or a football game. Neither of which will work, trust me, I have done the leg work on this one. So having their DVD player and favorite movies can provide them a bit of downtime.

Foods that they like. I most definitely encouraged Elizabeth to try new foods, still do as a matter of fact. But the truth is, when they are stressed it is harder for them to eat a turkey made a different way. Or in our world, it was mashed potatoes that threw Elizabeth. You see I use the potato flakes. She loves them. Then we come across homemade ones, with lumps! Well she was done after the first bite. So we learned to encourage her to try food but to have favorites packed in reserve.

Their favorite blankets (weighted if needed). How nice to cover them while they relax a bit with a show and get some deep pressure as well.

A bribe. One of my fan favorites. In Elizabeth world, food was and is the currency of choice. So we would pick one of her favorites and have it with us to encourage her to try a new food, to sit at the table well, etc. I am not always proud of my bribery, but I have learned to live with myself ;)

Share some expectations

While you want to help them enjoy the holiday by doing the above, you also want to help them continue to grow and achieve. So talk to your child about what you hope to see in terms of behavior.

- Tell them where you are going.

- Tell them who you will see, about how long you will stay. (For young children, I would use a reference they could understand. For Elizabeth, we used to tell her we would be somewhere for about one show.)

- Tell them about the different food they will see.

- It is also helpful for you to teach your child how to ask for a break if they need it. I know this can be hard with those non-verbal children or ones that are too young. But perhaps you can think about this as a goal for the future but in the meantime, if they look stressed, offer them a break. I never did this, I just kept pretending I was fine and pushing Elizabeth to “hang in.” So, I know what I could have done better and I offer out the above from that place of past experience.

Now give those thanks

- If you see something your child did this year that did not last year: give thanks.

- If you know you are stronger now than last year: give thanks.

- If you are simply proud that your family is smiling: give thanks.

So many of the simple things in life, the simple successes can mean so much to those who have a special needs child. They teach us to appreciate the minute things in life. And to give thanks. Our children are precious gifts. Give thanks.

Wishing you all a peaceful Thanksgiving.

Blessings to all.

-Michele Gianetti 

Michele writes for TalkTools Blog every month about her experience caring for Elizabeth, her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia. Follow her story since the beginning here.

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Tips for happy trick-or-treating with special needs kids

Posted by Deborah Grauzam on

I know as child, I used to absolutely love Halloween. I loved the costumes, the idea of roaming the neighborhood in the dark with a flashlight, making plans with my friends to go trick or treating and of course the candy. Ask anyone who knows me and they know how much I do love my candy... But the point is that Halloween for me was and is a really fun time.

For so many children, it is a great time. So when Elizabeth (who has Sensory Processing Disorder) was younger it was really hard for me to understand why this holiday was, simply, not. For many of our special needs children this holiday is one that poses a number of challenges. Read on for 3 possible scenarii and tips to survive them.

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SCENARIO 1:

I can remember when words from Elizabeth were a rare commodity. We were happy she said anything, let alone the words ”trick or treat” on command. So on Halloween night, we would approach a door and Emily would ring the door bell and say the coveted phrase, while Elizabeth looked scared….or would make an attempt which came out something like “tic-teet” which, while cute, was quite hard to hear from my standpoint and totally confusing to anyone who was waiting for clear words. So we would, of course, fill in the blanks, smile as if we were totally fine with out five year old lack of language, and put the candy in her bag and YEAH! (sarcasm) head to another house.

WHAT I WISH I KNEW THEN:

That it is okay to explain your child’s lack of language. That telling your child what to expect and what to do during the trick or treat hours (even if they have gone before) is a good thing. That even having a card that says “TRICK OR TREAT” spelled out on it that a non-verbal child can hold up is okay, as it allows the child to participate in the event but takes away some of the pressure to be verbal when stressed.

SCENARIO 2:

We would plan great costumes. I am one of those moms that LOVES the idea of creating a costume. When they were younger, I would use the one day off we get in October (teacher’s meetings) to make costumes. We would look in magazines for ideas and then create. Elizabeth would look with us and together we would get an idea of what she liked or wanted to be. Good! Right? Flash to Halloween night. Tears about putting the dark shirt over her head. The dark shirt that she had tried on 700 times prior. The dark shirt that was essentially half of her costume or a black cat. The dark shirt that we had to abandon unless we wanted a full-on meltdown. The black shirt that was put on her bed as she put on her bright orange shirt with a pumpkin on it and was ready to go.

WHAT I WISH I KNEW THEN:

That sensory issues know now rules or boundaries. That in hectic moments, times when schedules are tight or when we are a bit focused on a goal, those issues can become more intense. Hence, the above scenario. That it is okay, actually, more than okay to make these last minute changes. It lets your child know that you understand them and their sensory issues. That trick or treating as a pumpkin versus a black cat is a success and: who was really going to know what they should have been anyway? Truth be told, I tried far more times than I should have to get that darn black shirt on her…

SCENARIO 3:

Emily tells me that she wants to go trick or treating with three of her friends. My neighbor tells me that her kids are headed to another neighborhood altogether to go trick or treating. And my eyes go to Elizabeth, who at the age she was, could really have gone out with friends and been fine, if she did not have her special needs. So how do you make this situation work? I will tell you: it is NOT by asking your oldest child to take her sister along…ok, maybe that is what I did. And it did not go well.

WHAT I WISH I KNEW THEN:

That it is okay to make the plans for trick or treating earlier than most. This would have allowed me to make sure everyone had a plan that worked for them. That even though Elizabeth, age-wise, was ready to go with friends, her disorders make her act younger and have a bigger need for supports in situations like this to stay safe. That it is okay to address her needs as such. For the record here: The next year we asked one of her buddies (older) from school to go with her and her friend.

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Over the years, Elizabeth has grown to not just like trick or treat but to LOVE it. From the costumes, which she will pick herself and wear, to the canvassing of the entire neighborhood. We have learned from our earlier attempts and still put supports into place.

This will be the first year that we are going to have her hang up her trick or treat bag and have her stay by the door with me to pass out treats. She will look longingly at the street, I am sure. She has had some amazing Halloweens under her belt because we learned how to make them work for her and her needs.

Every child is different, every child has special things they like and dislike and ours are no different. Knowing your child is the key to success. I wish everyone a safe, fun Halloween and please know, that Elizabeth will be happily munching on candy as she waits for those little ones to show up.

Happy Halloween everyone!

-Michele Gianetti 

Michele writes for TalkTools Blog every month about her experience caring for Elizabeth, her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia. Follow her story since the beginning here.

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