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 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.