Ways to Make the COVID-19 Era Holiday Season Go More Smoothly for Your Special Needs Family
The holidays can often be stressful for everyone. There always seems to be endless preparations to do amid the festive rush. For people living with special needs, this season can be even more challenging. However, there are ways to get through such unfamiliar territory with your child, while celebrating with loved ones. Keep reading for some tips!
During these unprecedented times, surprises are not as welcome as usual, particularly for individuals on the autism spectrum, since so many of them rely on the comforting predictability of routine. Discussing any lockdown modifications to your typical holiday plans ahead of time will help your child become familiar with these changes, so they're less of a shock. Sit down at the kitchen table and review your updated plans. You may not feel comfortable explaining the exact details of the pandemic, and that's okay. Every child has a different understanding of and reaction to such information. But simply reviewing the schedule and answering any questions provides your child with an opportunity to feel ready to take on whatever happens.
New experiences can be extra overwhelming for those on the autism spectrum, especially children and young adults. Practicing these new situations helps your child be less daunted by the unexpected. Consider some role playing as preparation. For example, have your child mask up indoors for a little while each day to get used to the practice. Discover which fabric, or style, or fit of face covering your child finds the most comfortable. Let them pick out a festive colored or printed one. Or, have your child choose a yummy smelling hand sanitizer and get them accustomed to using it, so they’re ready to do so during the event.
Familiarize with FaceTime:
One thing we’ve all had to get used to during these times is virtual appointments or activities. Since so many schools and programs (like SNACK!) nationwide have gone virtual, chances are your child has already dealt with video chat platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype, at least a little bit. Still, it’s never a bad idea to review, and your child may only be accustomed to using video chat for school or therapy, not for spending time with loved ones. If you have a more casual Zoom/FaceTime appointment, or a laid back catch up with friends, let your child briefly join you to say a quick hello or simply observe. It may also help to practice video chatting with those you’d usually invite to festive get togethers. For instance, if your child normally visits grandparents during the holidays, and will do so remotely this year, try FaceTiming grandma ahead of time, reviewing how video chatting works. By getting comfortable spending time with family and friends virtually, your child will be better prepared for holiday festivities without some loved ones physically present, and the concept of a zoom Christmas or Hanukkah will seem a little less weird.
Holiday parties can be awkward for all of us at one time or another.
Individuals with special needs often have an even harder time in these situations, as it’s quite common for them to struggle with social cues and interactions, especially when there are lots of guests and chatter. Add pandemic related restrictions to the mix, and these parties may become an even trickier hurdle. But, there’s no reason your child shouldn’t be a part of celebrations. Together, potentially with input from other family members or your child’s therapist, brainstorm and practice ways your child can participate in a virtual festive gathering without the burden of conversation. If your child loves music, maybe they can be DJ for the festive tunes. If they really enjoy art, maybe they can put on a remote art exhibit, displaying a few holiday pictures they drew. If everyone’s virtually opening presents together, you child could help, showing each attendee the gift that particular guest may have sent them. Perhaps your child’s close with the family pet. You might want to help them pick out a festive accessory or costume for their four legged friend to wear to the party. Your child could sit with your dog or cat during the celebration, showing off their work as a pet stylist. Whatever you decide, coming up with something fun for your child to do will likely help feel more confident.
Perfection (isn’t the primary goal):
We all have different ways of handling stressful situations, and we certainly each have our own methods of coping with the countless ways COVID-19 has changed our daily lives. This is especially true for kids and young adults with ASD. The holidays can be quite discombobulating for us all, too, stirring up a wide range of emotions. Your festivities may not go a hundred percent as planned a hundred percent of the time during this period, and your child may struggle to adapt to this new type of holiday season. This is absolutely fine! It just shows that you, your child, and the rest of your family, are human. Remember: as long as you and your family spend this time happily and safely, that’s all that matters.