We parents are a weird lot when it comes to traditions, aren't we? Think about it. We urge our kids not only to approach a total stranger in a dodgy-looking red velour suit (an otherwise frowned upon activity 364 days a year), we tell him to climb onto the bearded man's LAP as he Ho, Ho, Hollers. No wonder even the most easygoing kid isn't necessarily cool with the arrangement.
When you factor in itchy formal attire, the cloying of carols, the brusque bustle of shoppers—not to mention blazing lights and lineups galore—the season can feel hellish for sensitive kids. Take my little man, for instance. The mere sound of nail clippers is 'painful' to him, so you can imagine how Christmas goes down. Before he was diagnosed with autism, we spent the better part of a gathering holed up in a bedroom away from the very family we were there to visit.
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I'm happy to report that we are a far sager lot now. Like every part of the holidays, though, preparation is key. Here are some tips on how to help a sensitive child (and parent!) survive the festive crazies:
Count down the days with a calendar and take care not to overschedule. Trade off with family members so your child isn't on the go too much.
Create a social story describing what will happen at each visit. Keep it simple and positive, from your child's point of view, e.g. "I will eat some turkey, then we will open presents." Don't assume your child knows how to act and react; set her up for success by outlining expected behaviour, like "I can look at decorations but should not touch them because they might break." Or better still, put breakables out of reach.
If necessary, have your child eat at a smaller table or before the entire group gets together. If your child is a fussy eater, have alternatives in place. The world won't come to an end if your child doesn't eat turkey and sprouts, though the atmosphere will be far less convivial if he descends into an epic meltdown. Trust me. Ditto for aforementioned itchy formal attire.
Decide on a dim, quiet space, away from the hubub, in which your child can regroup. Don't wait for the anxiety to set in. A favourite book or relaxing music on headphones are good bets, or join your child for a quick cuddle. A swift walk around the block might help for those needing a body break. You'll both feel recharged, and who knows, spontaneous singing may happen.
Lastly, there is no need to fear the red-suited guy. Lots of places are becoming more attuned to sensory needs, granting special kids a special audience with Saint Nick. If the mall is not your bag, you can also seek out 'sensitive' Santas through various autism-friendly agencies. My son had a blast meeting Santa at the Geneva Centre last year, and we can't wait to deck the halls there again this year.
Do you have a 'sensitive' kid? How do you plan for success during the holidays?