This post was written by my friend Wendy – you can find more of what she writes at MomentaryAfflictions.com.
As the mom of a special needs child, one experiences many moments filled with joy. Moms (and dads!) celebrate milestones reached, words said, physical illness conquered or brought under control, and more. And we are thrilled for our children and their progress and successes.
Parenting a special needs child can be so very challenging.
Sometimes we feel lonely, even in the midst of a crowd. It can seem that no one understands.
On occasion, we feel sad because our child struggles. Sometimes we are even questioned because other children are meeting milestone after milestone and folks want to know why our child isn’t meeting them at the same pace.
At other times we worry about our child. Will he learn necessary social skills? Will her body conquer this newest infection? Will he acquire the communication skills to make himself understood and to get his needs met?
When the holiday season approaches, these feelings and worries are often compounded. Many of our special children do not handle crowds well or cannot consume many of the usual holiday foods due to allergies. Perhaps traveling or navigating others’ homes is difficult because we have certain equipment our children must use simply to get around and live life each day.
Many times, a break in schedule can cause a complete meltdown. It can be difficult to complete Christmas shopping or to attend a business Christmas party because our child cannot tolerate the busy stores or we have difficulty finding responsible caregivers for our child.
How can you — the grandparent, cousin, aunt, uncle, sibling, or friend — help the special needs mom in your life get through the holiday season?
Contact special needs families beforehand to find out how you can help the day go well for them. In my experience, people with special needs, or those who parent children with special needs, are very well-prepared and usually already have a plan in place for how to navigate the day. However, it is a really sweet gesture to reach out anyway, and your offer to help may give them an idea they hadn’t considered previously. At the very least, they will feel extra welcomed by you through your phone call or email.
Abide by the rules and/or boundaries set by the special needs individual or his parents if the individual is a child. Allergies or food sensitivities can have far-reaching consequences. Death is even a possibility for some with severe allergies. Please do not assume that “just a little won’t hurt” or that the person or his parents are “overreacting.” Not only are you possibly risking the health of your special needs family member or friend, you are definitely risking your relationship when you do not take their health and requests seriously.
Learn more about your friend or family member’s special needs. Does your friend’s child have Down Syndrome? Does she herself suffer from a gluten sensitivity or other food allergy? Is your cousin’s son autistic? Does your neighbor’s daughter suffer from developmental delays, an incurable disease, or sensory issues?
Whatever the need is, do all you can to learn more about it. Your friend is likely to know a lot about the subject, because she has probably conducted tons of research in an effort to help her child! Feel free to ask her to tell you more. She will appreciate the gesture. It will help her to be able to share the information with you without feeling as if she’s preaching, and it will also show her that you care about her and her child.
There is much information available about almost any special need on the Internet, so utilize your favorite search engine to learn more. Or, take the old-fashioned approach, and make a trip to your local library. The librarians on staff will be able to direct you to the appropriate section to find the books you need to educate yourself about the topic at hand.
Provide a quiet place for your friend or her child to rest or calm down if needed. Holiday parties and shopping can become overwhelming to anyone. When one suffers from a sound sensitivity or cannot communicate needs easily, the panic can quickly overcome.
The ability to take some time in a peaceful and quiet room for a while is a true blessing, for mom and child. This offers a way to have some privacy in which to use coping skills to self-soothe or for a parent to help a child talk through an issue and calm down before returning to the festivities.
Offer to help. Ask your friend or family member if there is anything you can do. Often, when dealing with a child mid-meltdown, mama can come close to meltdown-mode herself. Perhaps this is due to the needs of other children that she knows she must keep safe. Taking care of her toddler or infant is a huge relief for her while she takes the time to work through a sensory moment with her special needs child.
Often, special needs families spend much time at therapy appointments and doctor assessments. Helping with a meal, childcare, or house work is another fabulous way to offer rest to a mama friend or relative.
Shopping can be a beast at any time! Florescent lights, loud and unfamiliar nosies, and (let’s face it) Nosy Nellies can make a trip to the grocery store difficult, much less a day of Christmas shopping, when each mama wants to be sure she secures gifts that are just right for her child. Be available to stay with your friend’s child, or even go shopping with her on occasion to lend a hand. Perhaps she would prefer that you do some shopping for her instead.
Ask. Just start the conversation and see how it goes.