Holiday Tips (and a few great excuses) for Families
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.
The holidays can be both a joyful and stressful time for all families. This can especially be the case for families of individuals with autism or other neuro-developmental disabilities. If you’re racking your brain to come up with some excuses you can use to avoid a holiday event you dread, here are a few you can try out this year:
Top 10 Great Excuses to Use at the Holidays
- There is a Sponge Bob marathon on TV, and we have to be home to tape it…all 24 hours of it.
- The neighbors have had the flu, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to come down with it.
- The kids hid the car keys—both sets.
- Oh, was that today? I thought you said NEXT week!
- The dog ate the green bean casserole we were supposed to bring, and we’d hate to show up empty handed.
- I’ve gained a bunch of weight this year, and just won’t fit with 7 other people at a card table made for 4.
- We’ve all developed a rare turkey allergy—can’t even be in the same room with it!
- Sure, we’d be glad to come. Of course, we’ll have to bring our set of 3 new not-yet-house-trained puppies with us so they don’t get lonely.
- We’ll be celebrating with the other side of the family this year.
- We’re boycotting the holidays due to over-commercialization.
Don’t think any of those excuses will fly? Here are some real tips for reducing the hectic-ness and increasing the happiness in your holiday season:
- It’s okay to say “No!”
Sometimes we feel compelled to say “yes” to every holiday invitation that comes our way. This can especially be the case with family events. You know your child’s limits and need to take those into consideration when setting up your holiday social calendar. You can say no while still being polite, and save yourself and your child a ton of grief in the process. Attend the events that are meaningful and important to you, and make other arrangements for your child if necessary. If you’re dreading it, then that’s a good sign you should gracefully opt out this year!
- Arrange small quiet gatherings with family and friends.
One family I know celebrates the holidays with family extended family members in “shifts.” They invite a few over at a time in the weeks surrounding the holiday. This way they get to see everyone without overwhelming their children. They stay in their comfortable familiar environment, while family members take turns coming to visit them. No one is left out, and the experience is much more enjoyable for everyone involved.
- Provide gift ideas.
If you’re worried about some of the gifts your child might receive this year, try to avoid the problem by providing family members with gift ideas. Don’t want a bunch of electronic games and toys? Make a list of games, craft supplies, books, and other things you would prefer for your kids. I also know some families who ask for gift cards that can be used toward things like therapy, therapeutic supplies, restaurants, or some of the favorite places their children like to visit.
- Plan ahead.
When going to someone else’s home for the holidays, make sure you think about your children’s needs ahead of time. Bring plenty of activities, snacks, books, clothing, etc. that will help them feel comfortable and keep them occupied. It can also be helpful to find a quiet place at the location you will be visiting where you and your child can get away from the group. This way you have somewhere to go when you notice that your child is getting over-stimulated or just needs a break.
- Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs.
While there will always be some people, family members included, who don’t understand the need for accommodations, most people want to be supportive. If there are things that will help make the experience more enjoyable and tolerable for your child then let others know that. This can include making requests that people not wear perfume, that others not give your child food you didn’t bring with you, or that they allow your child some time to “warm up” before trying to talk to him/her or give hugs. Think about the things you know cause your child to feel uncomfortable or react negatively, and communicate some simple things others can do to accommodate him/her.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of peace, joy, and happiness. Don’t sacrifice those things for yourself and your child by accommodating everyone else. Plan ahead, trust your instincts, and when all else fails—come up with a great excuse!